If you’ve been around organized conservatism for long, you’ve almost certainly heard of the 1960 Sharon Statement, long cited as a declaration of principles around which the then-burgeoning conservative movement could rally, much as the Port Huron Statement later served such a function for the New Left. At his blog QuickSilber, after discussing the somewhat varied religious viewpoints held by early National Review editors, Ken Silber writes:
But a better indicator, it seems to me, is the Sharon Statement, drafted by [M. Stanton] Evans and adopted by young conservatives in 1960 at William F. Buckley’s Connecticut estate. It was only by a close vote (44-40) that these conservatives decided to put the word “God” in the statement, and when they did it was to say: “That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force.” The manifesto was, as Glenn Reynolds might put it, religious but not too much.
And then in comments he adds:
Whether the slim majority in the Sharon group was correct or not, I think the closeness of the vote, and the paucity in their manifesto of what are now known as “social issues,” suggests that religion was present in conservatism in 1960 but less than dominant.
In retrospect, the statement’s choice of language can also be seen as a deft stroke of compromise: the religious conservatives got one definite tip of the hat toward their views, if only of a Sunday-politeness sort, while the large secular contingent (who then, as now, would have tended to skew toward individual-liberty-based versions of conservatism) were in effect assured that to the extent the movement drew on religious sentiment, it would be for the purpose of asserting the individual’s “right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force”. That foreshadowed what Grover Norquist was later to call the “leave us alone” coalition that was to hold together for a good long time as a political matter, even if battered almost beyond recognition now.