Association of West Michigan
Meeting Minutes for June 25, 2003; #141
Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church and
It was announced
that our six- year anniversary is coming up soon.
Our next meeting on July 9 will be on the topic of "The Psychology
of Religion-Research on Religiosity, Fundamentalism, and Atheism"
to be presented by Luke Galen, Assistant Professor of Psychology
at GVSU and FAoWM member.
That day- July 9- will also be our next board meeting, with further
discussion on long term planning. It will commence at 5:30PM,
prior to the 7PM regular meeting. All members are welcome to attend.
to the schedule of meeting topics is the July 23 meeting where
Renu Malhotra and Fred Stella, of the Interfaith Dialogue Association
will present "The Philosophy of Vedanta." Other changes
and updates are noted in the schedule sheet available at meetings
and can be seen online at our website.
for this meeting was "Why the Religious Right is Wrong about
Separation of Church and State" and was presented by special
guest speaker, Rob Boston, of the Washington based church and
state watchdog group, Americans United for Separation of Church
& State. He is the author of a book by the same title as this
presentation's as well as Close Encounters with the Religious
Right and Pat Robertson: The Most Dangerous Man in America? He
was flown in by FAoWM for this timely presentation, especially
in our current climate where Jefferson's "wall of separation"
is regularly besieged and eroded.
He began with
items from the news from abroad and then here in the U.S. It was
noted that in countries where there is a state sponsorship of
religion, the clergy tend to become more complacent. One cleric
from Denmark, who asserted that God does not exist could not be
fired because he was a state employee. Religious practices are
more likely to become merely ceremonial with citizens going through
the motions for tradition's sake. In one country where 85% of
the population belongs to the State church only 5% attend regularly.
Many Europeans scratch their heads over why so many Americans
listen to TV preachers. Far from weakening religiosity, as the
Religious Right asserts, our Constitutional separation of government
from religion has made our country the most religious industrialized
nation, with more diversity of faiths, vibrant expression and
freedom to flourish than anywhere else on the planet. We have
also the liberty to not participate in any faith community and,
officially at least, no religious test for public office (see
Article VI of the Constitution). Houses of worship have no governmental
oversight and members are free to practice their faith in the
manner they choose and since no faith group is favored over another
by the government, they may all fade or bloom by dint of their
own efforts, neither impeded nor sponsored by the State.
Boston brought regarding items in the news from the U.S., there
were examples of the erosion of science education due to the efforts
to get Creationism into the classroom or water down the scientific
theory of evolution, the wearing away of individual rights and
most germane to this discussion, the assault on religious freedom
by the Religious Right via ongoing attempts to wed our secular
government to their personal religious beliefs. That is an important
point: it is not an attempt to empower religion per se-there is
no desire in the Religious Right for Taoism or Islam or Buddhism,
for instance, to thrive, but rather to give special favor to Christianity
and in general the Protestant sects-especially the more Fundamentalist
varieties-to hold sway over our citizenry.
pains to counter the myth that being opposed to the Religious
Right's agenda is somehow anti-religious or anti-American. Quite
the opposite, in fact, since keeping government from meddling
in religious activity only serves to make for a robustly liberated
religious populace. And since our Bill of Rights contained in
our American Constitution-the supreme law of the land-is what
Church- State separationists defend and uphold, it could scarcely
be any more pro-American. He also noted that many religious leaders
are beholden to these central laws and are deeply committed to
ensuring their survival. Also, while the Religious Right has concentrated
almost exclusively on making major inroads into the GOP, those
staunch Republicans who want less governmental intrusion into
private affairs, among some other stripes along the spectrum of
this political party, are also strong supporters of a decoupling
religious faith from state and federal governance.
separation-eroding activities spearheaded by our current administration
were mentioned, including the controversial "Faith - based
Initiatives." This is clearly unconstitutional in that it
favors and funds certain private sects with public tax money.
Likewise, school vouchers are a way to get public monies into
the coffers of private and religious schools. It is misleadingly
touted as providing an improved educational environment for disadvantaged,
poorer students, and given euphemistic labels such as "choice"
but since these schools retain their ability to discriminate against
any student for any reason as to admissions, participation or
expulsion, and since the costs not covered by vouchers still exceeds
what poor families can typically afford and these students have
further burdens of transportation and other peripheral challenges,
there really is little validity to these arguments of assistance
to the downtrodden. There is also no empirical evidence of these
schools performing better, even though they can select from the
"cream of the crop" and are not required to deal with
special educational or behavioral challenges. And they can be
exempt from governmental oversight, testing or other ways of determining
success and they do not have to work against constricting budgetary
impediments or follow strict guidelines for instruction.
service providers can likewise, under the Faith- Based Initiative,
take government money while refraining from operating under the
provisions of our secular government. They can discriminate against
who they hire, have operations (in some cases) that are little
more than Bible study groups and force service recipients to participate
as captives for their religious proselytizing-yet still get public
money from a government that supposedly operates to uphold the
Constitution, which does not allow for these practices by those
receiving such funding. It forces everyone to support sectarian
agencies regardless of their personal beliefs and backgrounds.
Right push for such mergers of public support for private entities
makes no more sense than getting money from your neighbors to
finance your private library, especially when a public one is
available. And (unconstitutionally) taking more money out of the
already fiscally restricted public funds for the benefit of sectarian
services, is likewise to the detriment of established public ones.
While there is no evidence that faith-based services and institutions
do a better job than their public, secular counterparts, the drawing
away of funds from the latter makes for an ever harder, more challenging
way to go for them. If they were serious about improving education
and other public services for the greater society, the Religious
Right would invest in and commit to those providers who serve
the bulk of the nation, rather than leeching away resources and
then lambasting them for the consequences of these actions.
were also mentioned. One who has gotten a good deal of media attention
is chief justice for the supreme court of the state of Alabama,
Roy Moore. He became the darling of the Religious Right by his
insinuation of hand carved Ten Commandments displays in courts
of law and a huge stone one in the Justice Building of the city
of Montgomery. In public legal institutions where all who are
served are to be treated equally, having religious symbols of
one group only automatically reduces to second- class citizenry
all other groups and individuals who enter them. It even cheapens
Christianity for the very devout who adhere to the symbols on
display (crosses, the Decalogue, etc.) sincerely. Such matters
of private, personal faith and conviction made into kitsch and
garish displays, is anathema to such individuals. Like the insistence
by some to have loud public announcement prayers at sporting events
(which incidentally is in defiance of Jesus' own prohibition against
public, showy prayer), this is mostly a means to bully and make
a power play over others.
is defended by the Religious Right for being displayed in the
public legal realm because it is asserted to be the foundation
for our American system of laws. However, the commandments dealing
with not stealing or murdering, for instance are universal-not
an American phenomenon. Others are flatly opposed to our secular
and religiously neutral laws of the nation, which does not hold
that its citizens believe in any god or gods, or forbid the making
of "graven images" (ummm, isn't the two-ton stone Decalogue
erected by Moore a good example of flouting this prohibition?)
or view women as the chattel property of men or recognize an official
national Sabbath. That there is more than one version of this
listing of commandments is also problematic in its exclusion of
denominations that hold to a differing version. This was at issue
in mandatory Bible recitations in public schools too, where some
aspects of different faith's Bibles were at odds with each other.
document of our country is the Constitution, which to the dismay
of the Religious Right is thoroughly secular. There is no mention
of God or even any vague Deistic reference to a higher power,
Jesus or Christianity in it anywhere to be found. The Jeffersonian/
Madisonian models of non-establishment of religion, intrinsic
separation of government from religion and rights and liberties
of all people to practice their faith without intrusion, suppression
or sponsorship are some of the foundations of the nation. The
myth that we were founded as a Christian Nation, as promulgated
by the Religious Right continually, has absolutely no basis in
Constitutional law or the thinking and writings of the Founders.
And then there is that pesky Treaty with Tripoli where it was
officially stated in flat, direct terms that our country was not
founded as a Christian Nation.
of "In God we trust" and "One nation under God"
on our money and Pledge of Allegiance, respectively, are treated,
Boston quipped, as if they were hammered in directly by the Founders
upon inception of our country. In fact, these were reactions to
the fear of "godless Communism" and other factors and
didn't take place until the 1950's. There are also remarks and
documents that support the "Christian Nation" ideas,
but these are on the periphery, with little or no power, flatly
overturned, or disregarded and embarrassing. The Northwest Ordinance
is held up, for example, by the Religious Right for its wording
as if it has the same central role in our government as the U.S.
Constitution. Boston observed that in the 19th century, fundamentalist
clerics bemoaned the godless nature of the Constitution and strove
to amend it to make references to God and Christianity. Now, however,
the spiritual descendants of these people are making wild distortions
to somehow hallucinate such meaning into the same document.
guaranteed religious freedoms benefit everyone and therefore under
the right circumstances everyone is a strong Church- State separationist.
When it is your own personal faith beliefs that others seek to
infringe upon, you do not want the Government giving official
sanction and blessing to those who oppress your religious practices.
While many people have known extreme prejudice and religious suppression
in this nation, it is the application of our secular principles
and over riding Constitutional law that has remedied these wrongs.
And while the majority religion may be free to dominate other
faiths (and people of no faith) in the Religious Right's dreams
and fantasies, there is no guarantee that there's will be the
dogma in ascendance always. Christianity, being a religion with
vast splinterings, sects, and doctrinal differences, does not
lend itself well, anyway, to being a single monolithic national
religion…which brand of Christianity is to achieve headship
as the governing law of the land? Like creationism, where there
is no central defining theory and Young Earthers, Old Earthers,
Intelligent Design adherents, Day-Agers, etc. all having disparate,
highly emotionally charged worldviews, the Religious Right either
does not understand or does not perceive the problems inherent
in their strategy to make manifest a truly Christian nation.
With the increase
in non-Christian faiths in our country and "do-it-yourself"
spiritual groups, not tied to any specific religion, on the upswing,
it becomes ever more a contentious issue when one religion tries
to link itself with the powers of the State. It becomes, in fact,
a recipe for major disaster. Do the Religious Right leaders believe
there would be a smooth transition in their becoming the State
religion, or do they see it as part of the Endtimes scenario…there
is certainly a great deal of war rhetoric to be seen in the writings
and speeches of Religious Right leadership. The harshest subspecies
of the Religious Right is undoubtedly the Reconstructionists,
or Dominionists, who make no bones about their plans to refashion
the United States into that of the Middle East during biblical
times and have a belief in a draconian system of punishment for
a whole suite of behaviors, including what they see as "sins"
(worship of "false gods" etc) and defiance of one's
parents, among other things that are thankfully not under the
scope of American jurisprudence, but would be Bible Law that all
would be subjected to in their vision of America. It would be
an error to magnify the numbers of this branch of the Religious
Right, but just as the more mainstream R. Rt. has made significant
inroads into the weft and weave of the Republican party, the more
radical extremist versions of this group are also influential
beyond their numbers into the main body of Religious Right. Just
as there are "stealth candidates" with an extreme agenda
for public offices, the more extremist groups in the Religious
Right also cloak their goals and agendas that would be unacceptable
to moderates and others while forming bridges and links within
the larger party.
the chief weapon against the more extreme groups. The majority
of Americans, even among strong conservatives, do not hold to
the views espoused by them. Speaking to our group directly, Boston
said that it is now the freethinkers' turn to demand their rights.
Even though firmly in the shadow of Christianity for size, the
non-religious has numbers far exceeding that of other minority
religions who have demanded their rights. And we do not have to
go it alone. The Religious Right agenda runs against the rights
of all minority groups and women. Groups can gather around the
central unifying theme of equal protection as granted in Constitutional
law that the Religious Right wants to dismantle.
by the Assistant Communications director for Americans United
included learning our American history better and accessing groups
such as his, the ACLU and others for assistance, guidance and
support. Also mentioned was becoming more involved politically
and/or supporting those who speak for you. The Religious Right
coined the phrase "15% Solution", knowing that they
did not have to change the hearts and minds of a majority of eligible
voters but had only to target a small percentage of people who
agreed with them and ensure that they get to the polls on election
days. Voter apathy is one of the main reasons a minority group
that is well organized and funded can get a disproportionate foothold
in policy planning and agenda setting for larger society.
He also spoke
of supporting public education and not allowing the censorship,
book banning, and dumbing down of quality science education and
other practices of the Religious Right. And he talked about writing
letters to the editor. This portion of the newspaper is one of
the highest read of the entire paper. When the false accusations
and statements and revisionist history of the Religious Right
go unchallenged and are all that are seen by the reader, it becomes
a matter of fact for them. Grassroots is where the power has to
come from, he contended. Some 70% of support for the Religious
Right comes from fewer than 1000 very wealthy donors!
While in his
talk, Boston had a message of the dire times we live in now, he
ended on a positive note. Gradually, over time, there is progress.
The Constitution and vision of the Framers has stood the test
of time and weathered many storms. Rights cannot be removed from
a previously free people too far before there is backlash.
In the Q&A
portion we had a lively discussion. It was mentioned how the Unitarians
are often socially and politically active in areas oppositional
to the Far Right agenda. There was talk of how the Religious Right
is hijacking the more moderate camps and going under the guise
of speaking for Christianity to be seen as a positive force for
truth justice and the American way.
Right organizations operate legally in many operations, we need
to be more assertive in employing those same strategies. They
are free to donate books to libraries, for instance-and they do.
We should provide an alternative. It was mentioned in this regard
that people of minority religions and non-believers do not missionize
or proselytize as a rule and that the "opposition" so
to say is very vocal and fraught with the zeal of the black and
white thinker who believes his crusade is a holy one. We discussed,
too, items on the Religious Right agenda but not technically related
to them, publicly, such as abstinence programs.
about public gatherings where prayer is given at the beginning,
it was noted that since, legally, they have to permit all forms
of prayer, Wiccans and other minority groups can demand to lead
with their prayers. Since this is awkward for the majority, they
sometimes back down. As has been mentioned in other FAoWM minutes,
those who want to force prayer in school, would be appalled if
the students were directed to sit on mats and face Mecca and pray
to "Allah." There were many other items mentioned but
one that gives pause in particular is that the "Roadmap to
Peace" outlined by the Administration is based on the Bible
with boundaries as laid out in that text. It is a frightening
thought to realize that current complex geopolitical decisions
are being made based on Revelations.