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Falwell Blazed Trail in American Politics, Religious Right

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority who helped galvanize Christian conservatives to elect President Reagan, died Tuesday at age 73. Analysts examine his impact on politics and faith in America.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, the influences of Jerry Falwell. Jeffrey Brown has our look, beginning with some background.

  • REV. JERRY FALWELL, Founder, Moral Majority:

    Everyone standing, heads bowed in prayer.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jerry Falwell transformed his fundamentalist Christian ideals into a driving political force. An influential televangelist, Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and soon boasted membership of more than 6 million.

    He also claimed to have registered millions more, mostly conservatives, to vote and help put Ronald Reagan into the White House. In 1983, U.S. News and World Report called him one of the 25 most influential Americans.

    In December 1989, the NewsHour's Robert MacNeil asked Falwell how he would characterize the decade just ended.

  • REV. JERRY FALWELL:

    I would say the 1980s, most importantly, there's been a witnessing of the bankruptcy of the liberal philosophy and the anti-moral and amoral philosophies that were so prevalent in the 1960s and '70s, the rebellion of young people, which brought about the drug epidemic in so many to break down the family.

    Particularly during this decade, the spiritual rebirth. I'm an evangelical, and I've watched the evangelical church here and around the world preaching Christ, the death, burial, resurrection of the savior, receiving more receptivity everywhere, and that growth.

    And, finally, as I've watched the Berlin Wall come down, the cry for freedom in China, and the eastern bloc nations, I rejoice, because I see the bankruptcy of Marxist-Leninism, socialism in this world.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Falwell established his first church, Thomas Road Baptist, in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1956. What began with 35 members has since topped 24,000.

    In 1971, Falwell helped create what is now Liberty University in Lynchburg, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college. Republican candidates still make Liberty an important stop on the campaign trail. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is scheduled to speak at Liberty's commencement this weekend.

  • REV. JERRY FALWELL:

    The myth of global warming…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Falwell espoused views that were often controversial and angered many. He was a vocal opponent of homosexuality and gay marriage.

  • REV. JERRY FALWELL:

    Clearly, in every civilized culture since recorded history, marriage is always between a man and a woman. And the fact that we're trying to change it is very serious, because the family is the foundational institution in our culture.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In 1999, Falwell suggested that the PBS children's series "Teletubbies" had a gay character.

    One of his most inflammatory remarks came after the 9/11 attacks, which he blamed on certain segments of American society.

  • REV. JERRY FALWELL:

    I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians, who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Falwell later apologized.

    Jerry Falwell was hospitalized twice for serious health problems in 2005, including heart trouble. He collapsed this morning in his office at Liberty University. He was 73 years old.