Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hooterville's AU Church-State Issue of the Week

Every time I try to institute something "of the week" on this poor blog, it never gets very far. My ADD sees to that. Consistency? I think not!

Nevertheless, since I am on the executive board of my local chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and have been involved with this fine organization for the last 3 years or so, I'm going to attempt a regular feature of a church-state issue here. To me, the church-state question encompasses so many different aspects of what I believe as a progressive that I think it's important to keep on top of it, and to see where the attempts by the right to blur (and eventually erase) the line really lead to.

As I have written about in my book, the rise of the Right as far as power is concerned has happened because of the alliance of the religious fundmentalist right and the big business right. Neither of these groups by themselves is powerful enough to be able to thwart the will of the rest of America, which considered itself fairly liberal (not hard-left, mind you, but liberal) until after the sixties, when a group of ├╝ber-wealthy Republicans, fearing the loss of their power structure and 'free enterprise', got together and formulated a long-term, highly-organized and well-funded plan to stamp out liberalism. Richmond lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which outlined the necessity of halting the influence of the Left, lest the whole free-enterprise system collapse, and soon after, as Lewis Lapham writes in Harper's, the machine was set in motion.

As the Big Business conservatives planned their comeback, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, had a plan of his own. Outraged by the Supreme Court decision in 1964 that removed prayer from public schools, Weyrich wanted to hitch the evangelical Christian wagon to the Republican Party star. The problem was, at the time, neither side had an interest in the other. The Republican Party was, first and foremost, business-oriented, with no interest in challenging church-state separation. The evangelical community had largely separated itself from public life after the Scopes Monkey Trial; although William Jennings Bryan prevailed against celebrity trial lawyer Clarence Darrow and obtained a conviction against John Scopes for teaching evolution in school, evangelicals took a pounding in the press and were labeled 'ignorant' and 'backward'. In response, they retreated from the public sphere, and chose not to engage in 'worldly' activities, forming their own communities apart from the mainstream.

Weyrich was convinced that these two groups had common interests, and worked to unite them, but was not successful until 1978, when the IRS threatened to revoke tax-exempt status for private schools that were not sufficiently integrated. At this point, evangelicals suddenly saw that Big Government was the enemy, and that the Republican Party could be their ally in their fight against it.

This, basically, is an overview of how the religious right and big-business right combined their assets - big money and big obedient voter bloc - to wrest control of the public debate to their side, although they were numerically and ideologically in the minority. The evangelical vote pushed 'anti-government' Reagan into the presidency over the evangelical Jimmy Carter, whose liberal social views disappointed those who thought one of their own would uphold fundamentalist ideals; and the dismantling of the New Deal, which had rescued America from the Great Depression and given the country unprecedented prosperity and a strong middle class, began in earnest.

Neither side - Big Business or evangelical right - holds the mainstream view of America, but together they have proved a powerful juggernaut that will take an equally motivated and dedicated opposition to halt. My goal is to inform and engage the progressively-minded segment of America that is not aware of this - and there are a lot of people who fall into that category. This is why I work with church-state issues; because this is the way that the Big Business wing persuades the fundamentalist wing to support, with their massive and loyal voting bloc, public policies that actively hurt this country and the principles of democracy that our nation was founded on. This is the carrot; the motivator that the corporatists dangle in front of the fundies to keep them in line. Issues such as teaching creationism in schools, school vouchers, hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage, and generally inducing taxpayers to support religion with tax dollars, while attempting to dismantle public education and public services in favor of privatization, keep the evangelicals engaged and supportive of Big Business policies.  The aims of Big Business, however, have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with obtaining and controlling as much of the public purse and power as they can get their hands on, for their own benefit, and the subsequent detriment of the rest of the country.

They use the buzz-word 'Freedom' - to the fundies it means the freedom to impose their religious views legally on the rest of the country, without allowing anyone else the freedom to do the same to them; to the corporatists it means the freedom to prey financially on the rest of the country without regulation - the only regulations they care for are those which keep the rest of us from protecting ourselves from these predators. You can't blame them for being predators any more than you can blame a lion for being a predator - it is their nature. They are incorporated to make profit, not to protect the interests of the people. That is government's job, and the reason we have a government at all.

My first Issue of the Week is judicial ruling on church-state separation. Rob Boston, Assistant Director of Communications of AU, gives us Justice Antonin Scalia's take on it. No surprise here - he doesn't believe in it; doesn't think it is constitutional. Scalia thinks public schools should be allowed to teach "creation science" - an oxymoron if there ever was one. We have seen specifically where the danger lies here, during the Bush Administration, where 'differing views' on science on the subject of climate change, instead of one scientific standard, led the Administration to "suppression of scientific evidence that does not support administration plans."

When science is legally reduced to 'some guy's opinion', while individual views on morality are considered 'moral relativism' which should be eschewed in favor of one particular unyielding Christian standard as if it were scientific fact, then we are headed down a dangerous road indeed.

For more on AU's fight to keep Church and State separate, as it is in the Constitution, please check out their site at


Farnsworth68 said...

You go, girlfriend! See you in November in DC!
--The F Man

PhysioProf said...

Excellent historial outline!

Comrade Kevin said...

An excellent reminder and an enlightening read.