Sunday, November 20, 2005



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UPDATE : We are in the process of switching over our this domain name to our new site. Please bear with us. We expect to make the change shortly.


If you are receiving this message, the switchover has not yet occured but you can access the new TALK TO ACTION website via this link :



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TALK TO ACTION new website :

This website will shortly be trannsformed to the new interactive Talk To Action.

If you have received a notice on the pending change, be advised that this is the old site. The new site features a dramatically expanded cast of writers and will allow users to join the sites and post their own writing and comments. The accounts will be free.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Clarkson to Speak at Harvard

If you plan on being in Boston on Sunday, November 27th, you are invited to hear my speech titled, The Dramatic Progress of the Theocratic Right -- What in the World do We Do Now?.

Phillips Brooks House, Harvard Yard, 1:30 PM.

The event, which is free and open to the general public, is sponsored by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and by the Humanist Association of Massachusetts.
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Focus on Your Local Focus on the Family

Anti-gay politics is at the center of American life these days. Some argue that many Republican successes are predicated on the idea of "turning out the base" with this "wedge issue."  While it is not always clear that this tactic is as successful as some say, there is no question that it is taking place. Anti-gay politics is a staple of American life. So, who exactly is behind this?


Well, there are many actors, of course.  But I want to focus on just one, multidimensional player: Focus on the Family headed by Christian radio psycologist James Dobson. And I want to zero in on one aspect in particular -- Focus on the Family political operations in the states.

Several years ago, I wrote a study about state level conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, published by Political Research Associates (pdf file). There were two, related networks started in tandem in the late 1980s. One emphasized the business/libertarian part of public policy, and the other emphasized the policy issues dear to the religious right. The latter, was the network of Family Policy Councils affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family.  The details have changed since I published that study, but the general trajectory remains the same. Most importantly, these groups are at the forefront of antimarriage equality campaigns nationwide, and their role as fronts for Focus on the Family are not widely understood and that Dobson's organization has active, organizational tentacle in 34 states, in addition to his radio program which is available just about everywhere.

For example, the point group in the recently defeated effort to repeal anti-discrimination laws in Maine, was the FOF affiliate, the Christian Civic League of Maine.

In defeat, the Maine FOF group immediately announced that they will now seek to amend the state constitution to ban marriage equality. When they do, they can draw on the experience of many other FOF-led efforts from around the country. For example, the point group in seeking to get an anti-marriage equality measure on the ballot in Massachusetts, is the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Some already existing local groups grafted onto FOF as state level affiliates, and others were started from scratch. And some groups have come and gone. But whatever their genesis, they are joined at the hip with Focus on the Family, just as the Family Research Council serves as the group's de facto political lobby in Washington, DC. The Family Research Council merged with FOF in 1988, but later decoupled in order to give it more flexibility politically without necessarily reflecting on the Focus on the Family. However, the distinction has always been pretty thin. Among other things, James Dobson has remained on the board of directors all these years.

Similarly, although the FOF states that the State Family Councils "have no corporate or financial relationship with each other or with Focus on the Family," this is disingenuous, since an organization must meet certain criteria to become affiliated with Focus on the Family; and must behave in certain ways in order to maintain it's standing. Some groups have been dropped over the years. Even a casual examination of the web sites of these groups will show, they have similar, although not uniform, structures, procedures, and policy agendas. But all are deeply involved in state politics, and thier activities often include voter mobilization and even distribution of voter guides.

There are currently FOF-affiliated state policy councils in 34 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Have you focused on your local Focus on the Family?

[Crossposted at Political Cortex and FrederickClarkson.com]
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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Anti-Defamation League Denounces Efforts to "Christianize America"

In recent weeks, several leaders of major American institutions have spoken-out against the Christian Right. First, Rev. John Thomas president of the United Church of Christ, a mainline protestant denomination.

Thomas denounced groups "within and beyond the UCC" that are "intent on disrupting and destroying our life together."

"Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive," Thomas said. "Their relationship to the right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is now longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be 'nice,' to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril."

Then, up stepped Dr. Hunter Rawlings interim president of Cornell University, who used his state of the university address to rally the univeristy to come to terms with the problem of the "intelligent design" movement, which he described as "a subjective concept.... a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. It is neither clearly identified as a proposition of faith nor supported by other rationally based arguments."

Rawlings' went on to quote from a letter written by university founder Ezra Cornell in which he warned "that the principal danger, and I say almost the only danger I see in the future to be encountered by the friends of education, and by all lovers of true liberty is that which may arise from sectarian strife. From these halls, sectarianism must be forever excluded, all students must be left free to worship God, as their conscience shall dictate, and all persons of any creed or all creeds must find free and easy access, and a hearty and equal welcome, to the educational facilities possessed by the Cornell University.....".

This week, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, addressing an ADL conference, spoke out against efforts to "Christianize America."

The Isreali newspaper Ha'aretz, reported that the ADL "has in the past spearheaded campaigns against religious preachers and Christian elements deemed unusually extreme. But this is the first all-out media assault by an ADL head on the U.S. Christian establishment."

"Today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before," Foxman said. "Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!" he said.

Foxman proceeded to describe the process and to name names: "Major players include Focus On Family. Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association, Family Research Council and more. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructure throughout the country designed to promote traditional Christian values."

The ADL continued the "media assault" with a press release today stating that the curriculum for teaching the Bible in the public schools being promoted by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, is unacceptable, because it "advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition's interpretation of the Bible over another."

"This wholly inappropriate curriculum blatantly crosses the line by teaching fundamental Protestant doctrine," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "The text relies solely upon the King James Version of the Bible and hews to a fundamentalist reading, especially of New Testament passages. This is the primary flaw in the curriculum – that it advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition's interpretation of the Bible over another."

According to ADL, the King James Version is the least faithful one to the original Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek.

There are acceptable resources available for teaching the Bible in public schools. For example, the newly published textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence" from the Bible Literacy Project is designed to meet the standards for teaching the Bible in public schools with one semester on the Hebrew Scriptures and one on the New Testament.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that although public schools may not teach religion, they may teach about religion in a secular context. The Bible may be taught in a public school, but only for its historical, cultural or literary value and never in a devotional, celebratory or doctrinal manner, or in such a way that encourages acceptance of the Bible as a religious document. If a school district chooses to teach the Bible in this context, the adopted curriculum must be balanced and pluralistic in nature and the curriculum should not advocate one particular religion, interpretation or translation over another."

(For its part, Focus on the Family, one of the leading Christian right organizations, thinks the curriculum "should be in all public schools," although it promotes creationism, Christian nationalism, and has generated national controvery.)

It is encouraging that more and more important leaders in American public life are rising to meet the urgent challenge of our times: an antidemocratic movement, bent on religious supremacy and creeping theocracy at all levels of government, and in all areas of life. Let's encourage more leaders to follow the lead of Foxman, Rawlings and Thomas.

[Crossposted at Political Cortex]
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Friday, November 04, 2005

Salon.com: GOP & Christian Right "wackos"

Don't miss the must-read article by Michael Scherer at Salon.com. It offers a glimpse into how corrupt insiders play everyone for suckers while obtaining corrupt favors for clients, and whatever it is that favored business interests and campaign contributors want. Here is the money quote, as it were.

Consider one memo highlighted in a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday that [Michael] Scanlon, a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Tx., sent the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to describe his strategy for protecting the tribe's gambling business. In plain terms, Scanlon confessed the source code of recent Republican electoral victories: target religious conservatives, distract everyone else, and then railroad through complex initiatives.

"The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote in the memo, which was read into the public record at a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them."

To read the whole story, you will need to view a brief ad. Either that, or you can subscribe. Small price to pay for independent media.

[UPDATE] A blogger at Political Cortex has a link to the report in which the "wackos" document appears. It's a very large PDF file, but for those whose computers can handle it, it's available.
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Jimmy Carter Takes on the Christian Right

"Blurring the line between church and state threatens civil liberties and privacy, says former President Jimmy Carter. That's the case he makes in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, which draws on Carter's experiences as a president and a Christian."

The above is a blurb promoting an interview on Fresh Air, with Terry Gross, on the web site of National Public Radio.

In the book he writes:
Nowadays, the Washington scene is completely different, with almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact.

Fortunately, this degree of rigidity and confrontation has not yet taken hold among the general public.

Carter is right. But it will take some effort to learn how to engage in constructive conversation, and to learn with whom it is worth having such conversations and with whom it is not. I am not going to try to lay out a plan on this short essay. But rather to stake out the ground that it is not only possible, but necessary.

That's why is wrong to write off, as some do, all conservative Christians as beyond all conversation and all reason. I find the routine derisive language used by many against those with whom they disagree on matters of religion to be incompatible with the values of tolerance and equality to which progressives have historically been all about. It borders on religious bigotry -- and all too often falls well over the line.

Jimmy Carter is a conservative Democrat. He is also an evangelical Christian. His faith is an important to his identity. He is also hero of civil and human rights. He supports the separation of church and state. And he opposes the fundamentalist enforcers who have taken over the Southern Baptist Convention. He left the SBC out of principle. He opposes, among other things, their insistence on the subordination of women, and the banning of women from positions of leadership in the denomination.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates, has been a leader among progressives in articulating why the demonization of evangelicals and religious conservatives is politically ineffective at best; stupidly counterproductive at worst.
"Most Christian evangelicals," he wrote at Talk to Action recently, "are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.

I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”

I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac."

Crossposted at Political Cortex. Check it out for a sense of what the new Scoop-based Talk to Action will be like. The sites will look different, but function very similarly.
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Is Alito the Dream Candidate of the Religious Right?

DefCon, (the Campaign to Defend the Consitution) thinks so. Here is part of an e-mail they sent around about Sumpreme Court nominee Samuel Alito this morning.

What the religious right wants, the religious right gets.

At least that was message sent yesterday by the Bush Administration in nominating Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

After conservative Christians rallied to oppose Harriet Miers, President Bush caved and withdrew her nomination. In her place, he has nominated a darling of the religious right. According to Jay Sekulow, head of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, on abortion Alito is "just fantastic." Sekulow went on, "you look at school prayer cases.... he has consistently ruled in our position."

Sekulow was not the only religious right leader rushing to support Alito. Within hours, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins and James Dobson all rallied to Alito's defense in national media.

Robertson: "I think this is a grand slam home run."

Dobson: "We are extremely pleased."

Schlafly: "Alito has a terribly impressive record."

Bauer: "If Harry Reid's disappointed, I think that's good news for us."

Alito's dedication to the religious right's agenda is no secret. Over the years, he has voted to restrict a woman's right to choose, to support the public display of religious symbols, and to oppose the longstanding "Lemon Test" (for decades the legal standard for upholding the separation of church and state).

As Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins told ABC, "To think that we're going to reverse the liberal activist court without a fight is wrong. There's going to be a fight. There needs to be a fight. We are ready to rumble."
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Monday, October 24, 2005

Taking Leadership in Response to the Religious Right

The Religious Right rose to power while most of the nation remained somnambulant. Books and articles were written; film documentaries broadcast; and activist and scholarly seminars and conferences held -- but most of our leading institutions have had little to no response. Fortunately, this is changing. Leaders of major religious and secular institutions are beginning to speak out -- and to lead their institutions into the central struggles of our time.

Last week Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, spoke out against the attacks on the mainline churches -- including his own. This week, Dr. Hunter Rawlings, interim president of Cornell University called on the Cornell community to address the "invasion of science by intelligent design."

According to an account of his speech by Susan Lang of Cornell news service, Rawlings' call came in his first "State of the University" address since becoming interim president in June.

Read on. Meet Hunter Rawlings: professor of classics; hero of constitutional democracy; and role model for how university leaders can and must respond in this era of theocratic creep in American public life. Here is an excerpt from Lang's report.
Rawlings said, "I.D. [intelligent design] is not valid as science... I.D. is a subjective concept.... a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. It is neither clearly identified as a proposition of faith nor supported by other rationally based arguments." Advocates of I.D. voice a creationist argument that some features of the natural world are so "irreducibly complex" that they must have required a creator, or an "intelligent designer."

I.D. is, he said, "a matter of great significance to Cornell and to this country as a whole ... a matter ... so urgent that I felt it imperative to take it on for this State of the University Address." The packed auditorium gave Rawlings a lengthy standing ovation at the conclusion of his address.

"I am convinced that the political movement seeking to inject religion into state policy and our schools is serious enough to require our collective time and attention," he said. As such, he asked that Cornell's three task forces -- on the life sciences, on digital information and on sustainability -- consider how to confront such questions as "how to separate information from knowledge and knowledge from ideology; how to understand and address the ethical dilemmas and anxieties that scientific discovery has produced; and how to assess the influence of secular humanism on culture and society."

He said that Cornell, which some refer to as the world's land-grant university, is in a unique position to bring humanists, social scientists and scientists together to "venture outside the campus to help the American public sort through these complex issues. I ask them to help a wide audience understand what kinds of theories, arguments and conclusions deserve a place in the academy -- and why it isn't always a good idea to 'teach the controversies.' When professors tend only to their own disciplinary gardens, public discourse is seriously undernourished," he said.

In his address, Rawlings first reviewed how the I.D. issue is playing out across the country, with disputes about evolution making news in at least 20 states and numerous school districts. He then recounted the controversy historically, with Darwin publishing his groundbreaking book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," in 1860; the 1925 Scopes trial that deterred anti-evolution legislation pending in 16 states at the time; and the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that ruled as invalid Louisiana's "Creationism Act" that would have forbade teaching evolution in public schools. Now the controversy is back full throttle in a highly polarized nation, Rawlings said, challenging again what is taught in schools and universities.

Rawlings then reviewed how Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, Cornell's first president, were definitive about the issue when they created the first "American" university. Rawlings quoted White as writing that the institution "should be under the control of no political party and of no single religious sect." Rawlings then quoted from a letter Ezra Cornell had placed in Sage Hall's cornerstone in 1873, and unearthed just a few years ago...."

Rawlings' quote from Ezra Cornell's letter well summarizes the role of religion in a secular institution and a secular society. Cornell warned "that the principal danger, and I say almost the only danger I see in the future to be encountered by the friends of education, and by all lovers of true liberty is that which may arise from sectarian strife. From these halls, sectarianism must be forever excluded, all students must be left free to worship God, as their conscience shall dictate, and all persons of any creed or all creeds must find free and easy access, and a hearty and equal welcome, to the educational facilities possessed by the Cornell University.....".
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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Living Proof Ministries vs. Living Proof Inc. - A Clarification

A correction, an apology, and a developing story : I've withdrawn my story posted here on October 20th due to an inaccuracy : there are apparently two "Living Proof" entities involved in radio broadcasting, and I received an email from a representative of Living Proof Ministries, the nonprofit founded by evangelist Beth Moore, to the effect that Living Proof Ministries and Living Proof Inc. are not legally related entities.

The confusion was somewhat widespread and seems to have originated in an inaccuracy on the WAVM website which identified the competing applicant for the WAVM low power FM broadcast band as the "Living Proof Inc" associated with Beth Moore's "Living Proof" ministry. That was incorrect, and at least two Boston area newspapers also carried stories repeating that inaccurate attribution. My apologies to Beth Moore and Living Proof Ministry for my part in further broadcasting the mistake.

This confusion has proved oddly serendidipitous however, as an exploration into the correct "Living Proof Inc." has revealed a little known and startling avenue by which the Christian right is expanding an ability to bring its message to a wide sector of the American public, even to Massachusetts and on a national scale.

I will be introducing this story, likely in segments, for the upcoming launch of the new Talk to Action website. Stay tuned.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Last Call for Hot NYC Conference on Dominionism

Some of the best of those who think and write about the Religious Right are convening at the graduate school of the City University of New York this weekend. The occasion is a conference jointly sponsored by CUNY and the New York Open Center It is a rare opportunity to listen to and interact with these exceptionally thoughtful and well informed people.
I am honored to be included among them.


Dominionism, Political Power & the Theocratic Right

Dominionism is an influential form of fundamentalist religion that believes that in order to fulfill biblical prophecy, "godly Christians" must take control of the levers of political and judicial power in America in the near future.... Just how has this religious ideology gained influence in Congress, American political culture, and in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East and on the environment? What can be done to alert concerned citizens to the theocratic impulse growing in their midst? The goal of this seminar is to examine the power and influence of a religious and political movement that questions the separation of church and state, and that aims to establish a biblical society governed by biblical laws.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates; co-author, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort; Frederick Clarkson, author, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; Michelle Goldberg, senior writer, Salon.com, Esther Kaplan, author, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House. Chris Hedges, former New York Times reporter and author of Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America; Craig Unger, journalist and author whose journey to the Middle East with Tim LaHaye is the subject of a forthcoming article in Vanity Fair.

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm & Saturday Oct. 22 10am-6pm $85; $50 students

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm $15

Saturday October 22 10am-6pm $75

Click here to register.


View and Discuss Videos & DVDs: A DVD of highlights from a previous CUNY conference from last April Examining the Agenda of the Religious Far Right is available for $19.95. It features Karen Armstrong, Joan Bokaer, Joseph Hough, Robert Edgar, Hugh Urban, Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson. (212) 219-2527 / info@opencenter.org.
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Sunday, October 16, 2005

UCC President Says Rightist Groups "intent... on destroying our life together" as a Church

Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ acknowledged on Friday what mainline protestant church leaders have been reluctant to address for two decades: the rightist Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and allied groups are seeking to undermine if not destroy the mainline Christian churches in the United States.

The conservative movement and parts of the corporate sector have loathed the rise of the social gospel in the mainline churches for a century. They have loathed the social justice traditions that were catalysts for the civil rights movement, women's rights, and principled opposition to the excesses of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Central America. It was the latter that led to the formation of the IRD as a hub of antichurch organizing. Since then, IRD-affiliated "renewal" groups have been at the center of nearly every controversy in mainline Christianity -- most recently, but certainly not exclusively, issues of gay and lesbian equality in church and public life.

Thomas spoke, according to United Church News about groups "within and beyond the UCC" that are "intent on disrupting and destroying our life together."
"Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive," Thomas said. "Their relationship to the right-wing Instit ute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is now longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be 'nice,' to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril."

UCC seminarian and blogger Chuck Currie has more over at Stree t Prophets. Currie has written about the IRD-affiliated Biblical Witness Fellowship in the past, as have I.

Last year, the IRD and its Association for Church Renewal, (of which the BWT is a member) attacked the UCC for its warmhearted TV ads that had been rejected by the TV networks as "too controversial."

Last summer when the UCC's General Synod endorsed same sex marriage, the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWT) went ballistic and implied that the UCC is no longer a Christian denomination. Previously, it had called for the resignation of John Thomas.

All of the major denominations as well as the National Council of Churches have been affected by this well-funded, and sustained campaign of attrition over the past two decades.

IRD has received substantial funding and direction over the years, from what some might consider the first couple of theocratic philanthropy, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson who were profiled by journalist Max Blumenthal for Salon.com last year. This article is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand what John Thomas is talking about.

The Ahmansons have reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to IRD, on whose board Roberta Ahmanson sits. The institute, Blumenfeld reported, has a
"Reforming America's Churches Project, which aims to 'restructure the permanent governing structure' of 'theologically flawed' mainline churches like the Episcopal Church in order to 'discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence.' This has translated into a three-pronged assault on mainline Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal churches. With a staff of media-savvy research specialists, the institute is able to ply both the religious and mainstream media, exploiting divisive social issues within the churches."

It is a good thing that the courageous leader of a major denomination has publicly acknowledged that his denomination is under attack by politically motivated agencies. I hope the UCC and all of the mainline denominations will begin to take a more forceful posture in relation to groups who have abused their standing in tolerant and welcoming communities in order to sew division and discord.
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Friday, October 14, 2005

Prophecy Belief and Constitutional Boundaries

A group of ultraconservative political operatives have harnessed a particular reading of Biblical prophecy, known as Premillenial Dispensationalism, (embraced by tens of millions of evangelical Christians) and transformed these beliefs into campaigns to deny basic rights to groups of people framed as sinful and subversive.

Premillennial means a belief that Jesus Christ returns in the End Times and, after a series of confrontations and battles against evil, he reigns over an earthly utopia for a thousand years…a millennium. Therefore, Christ returns before (“pre”) the Godly millennial kingdom. Dispensations are epochs, or blocks of history, during which certain things happen. Premillennial Dispensationalists think that we are poised on the edge of that historic epoch during which the End Times preface the second coming of Christ and his millennial reign.

A large portion of Christian evangelicals who hold these specific theological beliefs also believe that devout and Godly Christians, before the tremendous confrontations or “Tribulations” that culminate in a huge global Battle of Armageddon, will be spared injury or death when they are brought away from Earth and held in God’s protective embrace in an event called the “Rapture.”

It is easy to poke fun at these types of religious beliefs, but it is deeply offensive and provocative in a way that undermines a serious and important public debate over the proper boundaries for religious belief and public policy decisions.

It is not accurate to dismiss Christians who hold these beliefs as ignorant, uneducated, or crazy. Social scientists have thoroughly refuted these stereotypes with polling data and in-depth interviews. In addition, it is not fair to ask people of faith simply to abandon their beliefs when they step into the Public Square or political arena.

It is also not fair, however, for those in the Religious Right to use God as a trump card in public policy debates.

Premillennial Dispensationalism and a belief in the Rapture have only recently been steered toward a particular ultraconservative agenda. For many decades the evangelicals who held these beliefs were wary of too much political participation, which they saw as pulling them away from their religious obligations and devotions. Most felt that God’s plan for the End Times would reveal itself without the need for political activism. After all, God in the millennial utopia would ultimately reward devout Christians, and this was especially true if they believed the Rapture would protect them from all harm during the End Times confrontations.

In the 1970s a group of right-wing political operatives, seeking to rollback the economic policies and social safety net woven by the Roosevelt Administration, decided to recruit evangelicals into their political movement to take over the Republican Party. In doing so they pushed political debate in our country away from democracy and toward theocracy.

Evangelicals, however, require a Biblically based reason for their actions. Christian Right leaders, including Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Paul Weyrich, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson, provided the justification by arguing that, according to the Bible, Christians had an obligation to struggle against evil in the political arena, and to purify and restore the sanctity of secular society.

The leaders of the Religious Right mobilized millions by arguing there was no compromise with evil. The political operatives provided long lists of who was evil and how these sinners were subverting God’s plan for America. They presumed to speak for God and country. Moreover, they created a politicized religious movement willing to strip away rights from persons categorized as sinful. This type of demonization and scapegoating is toxic to democracy. It erodes the concept of informed consent and masks prejudice and bigotry with a veneer of religious devotion.

Because the leaders of the Religious Right have mobilized such a large voter base, they regularly have meetings with powerful political leaders, including the President. Today the Religious Right plays a major role in shaping foreign and domestic policies.

We can change this situation. The Religious Right does not speak for all Christians or even all evangelicals. The leaders of the Religious Right sometimes argue for policy positions that make their own followers uncomfortable. In a constitutional democracy, the ideal path for the nation is always open to debate; and the idea of God is too big for small minds to shackle. If we want to defend the Constitution, we must learn the religious beliefs of those evangelicals who dominate the Religious Right, treat them respectfully, and yet engage them in a critical public conversation over the appropriate boundaries for civic political debate set by the founders and framers of our nation.


Ported from Campaign to Defend the Constitution
Visit: Chip Berlet's Blog
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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Is Bush Seeking to Revive the Religious Test for Public Office?

The Christian Right of the 18th century didn't like the U.S. Constitution because it did not declare that the U.S. a Christian nation. Not only that, but the Consitution explicitly banned religious tests for public office in Article Six. This set in motion of the disestablishment of the official churches in the colonies that had mostly functioned as little theocracies -- and made the United States the first nation in the history of the world to be founded on religious equality. But the Christian nationalists have never given up.

Now the Bush administration, way down in the polls and facing a conservative revolt over the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court is making at least a gesture in the direction of giving the Christian Right one of its dearest goals: the revival of the religious test for public office.


The New York Times reported this morning: "On a radio show being broadcast Wednesday, [religious broadcaster James] Dobson said he discussed Miers with [White House political strategist Karl] Rove on Oct. 1, two days before her nomination was announced. Dobson said Rove told him 'she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life,' but denied he had gotten any assurances from the White House that she would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion."

Later in the day, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution (DefCon) issued a blistering statement denouncing the apparent White House collaboration with Christian Right leader James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family. "I am deeply troubled by the appearance that the President is applying a religious litmus test for his judicial appointments," said Isaac Kramnick, professor of government at Cornell University. "Such a test violates the Constitutional prohibition on religious tests as a qualification for public office."

"Since 2002," Kramnick continued, "the President has repeatedly said that he will appoint judges who believe that God is the source of our civil rights. The notion of asking judges to acknowledge a source of law other than – and perhaps higher than - the Constitution is unacceptable. It shatters the fundamental premise of our founders that the Constitution itself is the supreme law of the land."

Later today, an Associated Press story underscored Kramnick's concern: "'People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers,' Bush told reporters at the White House. 'Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion.'"

"Bush, speaking at the conclusion of an Oval Office meeting with visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said that his advisers were reaching out to conservatives who oppose her nomination 'just to explain the facts.' He spoke on a day in which conservative James Dobson, founder of Focus on Family, said he had discussed the nominee's religious views with presidential aide Karl Rove."

Meanwhile, according to The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, speaking to a Republican group in North Carolina recently, warned of the danger of Islamic theocracy in the United States.

While the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism around the world are certainly not to be minimized, someone needs to tell Gov. Romney that the theocratic movement in the United States is not trending Islamic.
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Friday, October 07, 2005

John Danforth & the Christian Right

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, former GOP Senator-- and Episcopal priest -- John Danforth is at it again.

According to a story running on Religion News Service, "Since publishing two confrontational op-ed pieces in The New York Times earlier this year, Danforth has accepted a series of invitations to take his provocative questions on the road. This fall, he's a panelist at Notre Dame, a guest preacher at Harvard and Yale, and a featured speaker for Roman Catholic and Episcopal groups in Washington. Danforth is on a speaking tour denouncing the "divisiveness" of the Christian Right."

"I've been away from (the Senate) for more than 10 years," he said recently at the Memorial church at Harvard University, "and I see politics from a distance. And I'm appalled by what I see.... Right there in the midst of all the partisanship, in the midst of all the nastiness, right there with their wedge issues and litmus tests and extreme rhetoric, right there as the most divisive force in American life, are my fellow Christians."

As encouraging as it is to hear Danforth speaking out, his words are unlikely to have much effect. The power of the Christian Right is not in the divisiveness of their rhetoric, although that is a factor. It is in the political power they have attained -- largely through the effectiveness of their political organizing. What Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson say now is little different, and no more divisive, than what they were saying 20 years ago when Danforth was in the U.S. Senate and not (to my knowledge) speaking out. Since that time, the Christian Right has become the best organized faction in American politics -- and one of the most powerful.

As someone who has been writing and speaking about this subject for almost 25 years, I want to underscore that as important as issues of language are, they are not as important -- not nearly as important -- as issues of power.

I'd like to hear what John Danforth thinks should be done about those.
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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Roy Moore's Run for Theocrat-In-Chief of Alabama

Roy Moore has made it official. He is running for the GOP nomination for governor of Alabama. He may also be launching what could become a storied career as one of the most prominent, if cagily, theocratic politicians in America.

His platform as outlined on his campaign web site, might be best described as theocratic populist. Mr. Moore, as is now well-known, abused the office of Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, by secretly commissioning a 2 1/2 ton granite religious monument featuring the Ten Commandments -- and installing it in the state court house.

Moore was looking for a showdown in federal court. He got it, and he lost. And when Federal District Judge Myron Thompson ordered him to remove the religious display, Moore refused. Ultimately Mr. Moore was removed from office; his monument was removed from the courthouse; and he is still kicking and screaming about it.

Moore says public officials have the right to "acknowledge God." Well, all Americans have that right. But Moore, (as Judge Thompson made clear and the appellate courts confirmed), had no right to use the state courthouse to display a religious monument. Moore insists to this day that he has the right to do as he pleases and has made the right of public officials to "acknowledge God as the moral foundation of law, liberty and government," a cornerstone of his platform.

If all this were not disturbing enough, Moore's anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-democracy and anti-separation of church and state politics are worthy of national concern. He wants to eviscerate the power of the state legislature by requiring it to meet much less frequently; term-limit legislators; and strengthen the veto power of the governor.

Finally, Moore's politics may be best viewed in terms of his apparent national ambitions. Scholars are already comparing his style to that of the late George Wallace who as governor of Alabama in the 1960s demagogued high-profile segregationist stands into a run for president -- winning four states of the old confederacy as the candidate of the American Independent Party in 1968.

But for now, Moore still needs to get past incumbent Gov. Bob Riley in the June 2006 GOP primary. Will the Ten Commandments Judge act start to wear a little thin? It could. Last year, John Rowland was forced to resign in disgrace as governor of Connecticut in the face of probable impeachment on corruption charges. Roy Moore is no more entitled to call himself "judge" than John Rowland is entitled to call himself "governor." Yet the unrepentant Mr. Moore's campaign slogan is "Judge Roy Moore for Governor of Alabama."

Indeed, Mr. Moore's major accomplishment as an elected public official was to get thrown out of office for defying the order of a federal judge. His campaign bio, which features a long list of awards from Christian Right groups, may be the single most vainglorious resume in recent American political history. But if anyone can pull off this demagogic stunt of a campaign, it's Roy Moore -- who has a national Christian Right fundraising base, and is the best-known pol in Alabama.

Candidate Moore pledges to return Alabama to the people. But what he is really saying is 'turn Alabama over to me.'
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Saturday, October 01, 2005

If You Think the Religious Right is a Problem....

There are lots of things to be done.

One of the first things to do --- is to learn more about it.

The Christian Right is one of the most successful political movements in American history. Yet people's level of literacy about the subject is often, well, shockingly low. The Christian Right is the dominant faction in the GOP. There are reasons for that. But few seem to know what those reasons are. If we are going to have intelligent conversations about all this, let alone be able to have coherent discussions about what to do, we need to have more people who share a common base of knowledge and the language necessary to have meaningful conversations. After many years, I know that useful knowledge and conversation in this area can be hard to come by.

So here is my up-by-the-bootstraps, do-it-yourself program for coming up to speed: books, magazines, conferences, videos, blogging -- and a radical idea.

Pick any three books: Among general interest books, I will certainly recommend my own. Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; but also Facing the Wrath by Sara Diamond; The Most Dangerous Man in America and Why the Religious Right is Wrong, both by Robert Boston. Current hot and excellent books are With God on Their Side by Esther Kaplan, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America by Chris Hedges; and The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney. For the academically inclined: Rightwing Populism: Too Close for Comfort by Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons; Roads to Dominion, by Sara Diamond; and With God on Our Side, by William Martin.

Pick one or both magazines: Church & State; The Public Eye. (Yes, other publications cover the religious right periodically and well. Most recently Harpers has had some important coverage, and an upcoming issue of Mother Jones has good stuff. Max Blumenthal's articles in the The Nation online are not to be missed, nor are Bill Berkowitz columns for Working Assets. But for regular coverage, its the monthly Church & State and the quarterly Public Eye.)

Read Blogs devoted to this subject: Talk to Action, DefCon blog; Dark Christianity, Religious Right Watch, Frederick Clarkson, Chip Berlet, and for more general discussions of politics and religion, Street Prophets.

Attend Conferences: These are, unfortunately, few and far between. The Texas Freedom Network has one going on this weekend. The National Cathedral in Washington, DC has a good looking conference October 13-15 that is mostly about progressive religious values, (which is not really to be confused with learning about the religious right, but there will be some of that). And finally, there is one focused on understanding the Christian Right, sponsored by the Graduate Program at the City Univeristy of New York and the New York Open Center.

Dominionism, Political Power & the Theocratic Right

Dominionism is an influential form of fundamentalist religion that believes that in order to fulfill biblical prophecy, "godly Christians" must take control of the levers of political and judicial power in America in the near future.... Just how has this religious ideology gained influence in Congress, American political culture, and in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East and on the environment? What can be done to alert concerned citizens to the theocratic impulse growing in their midst? The goal of this seminar is to examine the power and influence of a religious and political movement that questions the separation of church and state, and that aims to establish a biblical society governed by biblical laws.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates; co-author, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort; Frederick Clarkson, author, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; Michael Northcott, teaches Christian Ethics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; author, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire; Esther Kaplan, author, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House.

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm & Saturday Oct. 22 10am-6pm $85; $50 students

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm $15

Saturday October 22 10am-6pm $75

Click here to register.

View and Discuss Videos & DVDs: A DVD of highlights from a previous CUNY conference from last April Examining the Agenda of the Religious Far Right is available for $19.95. It features Karen Armstrong, Joan Bokaer, Joseph Hough, Robert Edgar, Hugh Urban, Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson. (212) 219-2527 / info@opencenter.org. Theocracy Watch has produced a very useful educational piece which is available on video or DVD. It can be downloaded for free or ordered by mail. Why not get a group of people together for a showing and discussion?

Consider a Radical Idea: Follow the above program and then do the same thing with religious right sources. Its a good thing to have some direct experiences of the people, books, periodicals and events of the religious right. In fact, I would argue that there is no substitute for it. One of these days, I will write up a beginner's program for how to do this.

But in the meantime, try some or all of the above. Ideally, do them with others, perhaps as a reading and discussion group. I would add that when we launch the scoop-based version of Talk to Action, the above resources will be listed along with others, and whenever there are interesting events, we will announce them -- and of course chew over whatever happens. Many of the people mentioned in this post will be frequent contributors at Talk to Action. You can think of it as a rolling conference on the religious right and what to do about it; how to talk about it; comparing notes on what works, what doesn't, and why. We want to learn lessons from our mistakes and failures. And we want to celebrate and tell the stories of our victories -- and it will be important to have many such celebrations, won't it? As I often say, this is one of the central struggles of our time.
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Friday, September 30, 2005

DefCon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution

There is a new major effort to combat the Religious Right that is trying to be respectful of spiritual belief, yet sharply critical of Dominionism and Theocracy.

Launched only a few days ago, the website is a combination resource center and blog that proclaims:

"The Campaign to Defend the Constitution combats the growing influence of the religious right over American democracy, education, and scientific progress and leadership."

As one post explained:

"We are dealing with a powerful group driven by a specific agenda, who seek to control many different facets of our culture. As their power has grown, the religious right has alienated, frightened, or infuriated millions of Americans along the way. DefCon is here to unite these Americans. Regardless of what drove you to fight the religious right, it is imperative we realize that advancements of their agenda anywhere increase their power everywhere."

DefCon has already sent a letter to all 50 governors urging them to "keep science curricula based on science, not religious rhetoric." The group has published "Islands of Ignorance: The Top 10 Places Where Science Education is Under Threat."

Everyone concerned about the Religious Right, defending the Constitution, and respecting separation of religion and state should log on, join the debate, and make a donation. I plan to do all three.

OK, so I seem to be contradicting my last post. But when a new idea comes along that changes reality, I get to change my tune.

DefCon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution



Ported from Chip Berlet's Blog
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What to Do About Bill Bennett's Racist Remarks?

Sarah Posner has published a well-researched piece at The Gadflyer, about the Salem Communications radio empire that carries a vast array of conservative programming. Here is an excerpt:

"Michigan Democrat John Conyers has written a letter to the Salem Radio Network," writes Posner, "requesting that it suspend Bill Bennett's program for his outrageous remarks that '[Y]ou could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."' But who owns Salem, and what do you think they're going to do about Bennett?"

"Salem Radio Network's parent company is Salem Communications, a publicly traded media company which openly claims its programming is from a conservative Christian perspective. The company owns over 100 radio stations in major metropolitan markets and syndicates its programming to 1,900 stations around the country.

"Salem's principals, CEO Ed Atsinger and his brother-in-law and Board Chairman Stuart Epperson (himself a radio host), are long-time patrons of the Christian right and its favored Republican candidates and causes."

Much more.
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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Its Time to Fight the Religious Right

DefCon, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, officially launched today.

The campaign promises to aggressively challenge the religious right on the facts and the law. One defining characteristic of DefCon's approach -- is that it has apparently made a clean break with the dubious Inside-the-Beltway driven tactic of name calling. A failed effort over many years relied on focus-group derived labels such as "radical religious extremists" rather than clear, forceful arguments and messages. This is very good news and offers hope of the development of a far more productive strategy to persuade the American people that theocracy is not the direction we want to go.

Duke University Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky writing at the DefCon Blog says its "Time To Fight the Religious Right"
"I believe that the greatest threat to liberty in the United States is posed by the religious right, largely comprised of Christian fundamentalists. Across a broad spectrum of issues they want to move the law in a radically more conservative direction, ultimately threatening our freedom."

DefCon (aka, Campaign to Defend the Constitution) released a report titled Islands of Ignorance, describing the threat to American science education in ten states and localities where "intelligent design" is being promoted by the religious right as an alternative to evolution. DefCon also released a letter, signed by leading scientists, clergy, Nobel Laureates and others, urging the governors of all 50 states to work to stop the erosion of American science education.

Specifically, we are concerned about efforts to supplement or replace the teaching of evolution in our public schools with religious dogma or unscientific speculation. Science classes should help provide our children with the tools and scientific literacy they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.

We are well aware of studies showing American children falling behind those of other nations in their knowledge and understanding of science. We certainly will not be able to close this gap if we substitute ideology for fact in our science classrooms – limiting students' understanding of a scientific concept as critical as evolution for ideological reasons.

We do not oppose exposing our children to philosophical and spiritual discussion around the origin and meaning of life. There are appropriate venues for such discussion – but not in the context of teaching science in a public school science classroom.

We have come together – people of science and people of faith – for the sake of our children and the competitiveness of our country, to urge you to ensure that:

· Science curricula, state science standards, and teachers emphasize evolution in a manner commensurate with its importance as a unifying concept in science and its overall explanatory power.

· Science teachers in your state are not advocating any religious interpretations of nature and are nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.

· There are no requirements to teach "creation science" or related concepts such as "intelligent design," or to "teach the controversy" – implying that there is legitimate scientific debate about evolution when there is not. Teachers should not be pressured to promote nonscientific views or to diminish or eliminate the study of evolution.

· Publishers of science textbooks should not be required or volunteer to include disclaimers in textbooks that distort or misrepresent the methodology of science and the current body of knowledge concerning the nature and study of evolution.

Our nation's future rests, as always, in the hands of our children. We hope to have your commitment to ensure that our schools teach science, not ignorance, to our children as they prepare the next generation for the challenges of a new century.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Roy Moore to Make a "Major Announcement"

Roy Moore, the disgraced former Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court is thinking of making a comeback -- a run for the GOP nomination for governor of Alabama in 2006. According to the web site We Need Moore, the web site of the Draft Roy Moore campaign (backed by Conservative Christians of Alabama), Mr. Moore will make his intentions known in what is described as "a major announcement" on Monday, October 3 at 1:00pm in Gadsen, Alabama, Moore's hometown. "This will be an historic occasion," according to We Need Moore. "The eyes of the nation are upon Alabama. We need a crowd to show support for Judge Roy Moore and the media that we have strength. Ya'll come and bring a carload."

Moore, popularly known as the "Ten Commandments Judge" is thought to be a serious contender against the business oriented incumbent Republican governor, Bob Riley. Moore is also said to be seeking to field a full slate of candidates for statewide office.

On the Democratic side, the Associated Press reports that current Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is expected to square off against former Gov. Don Sielgleman.

Moore is best known for installing a two and a half ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the state courthouse, shortly after his election as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. A federal judge declared that the monument was religious display that violated the constitutional separation of church and state and ordered Roy's rock removed. Moore refused to remove the monument and was subsequently removed from office. In so doing, he became a national hero of the Christian Right, and a central figure in far right efforts to undermine the federal judiciary.

As much as many Christian Right pols are a departure from the golf club Republicanism of much of the latter 20th century, Moore is a further departure, representing an overtly and confrontationally theocratic politics -- reminiscent of the pugnacious populism of former Gov. George Wallace.

The Birmingham News recently reported about one of Moore's recent appearances at a church in Ozark, Alabama: "More than 200 people filled the green pews of the Glory to Him Church to hear Roy Moore preach about God and government on a humid Thursday night. "We will always be one nation under God. No federal court, no federal government, no state government can deny it," Moore thundered. "Amen" the crowd answered back.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New Group to Fight the Religious Right Online

DefCon, short for Campaign to Defend the Constitution: Because the Religious Right is Wrong, is a promising new Washington, DC-based internet campaign modeled on the success of MoveOn.com.

I have had a few advance peeks while it was in development, so I can attest that considerable thought has gone into its creation. DefCon says that "Americans deserve all the freedoms and rights promised in the Constitution. We cannot let religious zealots turn back the clock on civil rights, privacy, scientific progress, and quality education."

So check them out. They've got a good daily summary of articles on the controversy over intelligent design; and useful profiles of some religious right leaders.

Here is some of the press release about the official launch planned for Thursday:

New Online Campaign Launched Against Religious Right

Report Thursday Will Highlight Top Ten "Islands of Ignorance"
Where Teaching Evolution Is Threatened


The Campaign to Defend the Constitution will release a letter on Thursday to all fifty governors signed by Nobel laureates, other leading scientists and scores of clergy, calling on the states to ensure that science classes teach evolution and base curricula on established science, not ideology.

The Campaign will also release a report highlighting the top ten "Islands of
Ignorance" around the country where science education is under attack.

These announcements are the first actions of the newly formed Campaign to Defend the Constitution (DefCon), an online grassroots movement to combat the threat posed by the religious right to American democracy, public education and scientific leadership. The Campaign is led by prominent national scientists, legal scholars and clergy......

The Campaign's Advisory Board includes such notable leaders as:

Bruce Alberts, former President of the National Academy of Sciences
Francisco Ayala, former President and Chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Ira Glasser, former Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union
Rev. James Lawson, former President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health
Erwin Chemerinsky, Professor of Constitutional Law, Duke School of Law

The launch of DefCon coincides with the start of the trial in Dover, PA over a school board mandate to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.


I will be a guest blogger at the DefCon blog from time-to-time, in addition to launching Talk to Action over the next little while.

The tide is turning, folks. We are adding a focused, netroots capacity for taking on the religious right that we have not had before. DefCon officially launches on Thursday. Talk to Action launches soon.

And you are invited.
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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Evolution: Just a Guess?

The blog Religion Clause has great primer for what is shaping up as a classic court case over the teaching of evolution or intelligent design in science classes. The federal trial begins Monday Sept 26th in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania regarding the "Dover Area School District's policy on intelligent design. Intelligent design has become a flash point in the war over the role of religion in American society, and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District seems destined to become a symbolic battle..... At the heart of the case is a statement that the school district requires biology teachers to read to ninth-grade students:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

No doubt one aspect of the case will be the religious right's slippery use of language. One key argument in the religious rights's grab bag is that the theory of evolution is well, "just a theory" and that other "theories" such as intelligent design, deserve to be presented in the name of academic freedom. The New York Times recently published a set of F.A.Q.s about evolution borrowed from a pamphlet used by the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, NY as part of their staff training program.
Is evolution 'just a theory'? A "theory" in science is a structure of related ideas that explains one or more natural phenomena and is supported by observations from the natural world; it is not something less than a "fact." Theories actually occupy the highest, not the lowest, rank among scientific ideas. ... Evolution is a "theory" in the same way that the idea that matter is made of atoms is a theory. Is it true that there is lots of evidence against evolution? No. Essentially all available data and observations from the natural world support the hypothesis of evolution. No serious biologist or geologist today doubts whether evolution occurred.
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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Values, Culture and Politics

Who's afraid of freedom and tolerance? Why are fundamentalists so frightened by liberal family values? A look at competing worldviews, by Doug Muder, is the cover story in the Fall issue of UU World magazine, published by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

For those seeking to find progressive religious "values-based" approaches to understanding and responding to conservative evangelicalism, it is an interesting and important read. Muder makes a spirited and convincing case that conservative values hold no distinct advantage for the family or for anything else, and that statistics on such matters as divorce and pornography bear him out.
He calls for greater understanding of conservatives and better articulation of progressive religious values as essential in the culture war. Here is an excerpt:

"It is tempting, human, and (to an extent) inevitable for religious liberals to respond with our own feelings of persecution, helplessness, and anger. But in doing so, we fall into the vicious cycle of polarization: Our anger feeds their sense of persecution just as theirs feeds ours.

We have a way out of this cycle: a message of hope that the Right cannot match. Our way of life works in this new world and does not demand that we roll history back. We need to broadcast this Liberal Good News loud and clear.

But in order to communicate our message, we need to understand the anger and helplessness of the Christian Right, so that we can cut through the static that jams our signal. We need to talk about more than freedom and choice; we need to explain why we want freedom and choice. We need to talk about the committed life and how committed liberals escape the superficiality and nihilism that the Right fears and assumes we represent.

We need, in short, to reclaim one of Christianity's best ideas and hardest practices: We need to love our enemies and to bless with hope those who curse us with anger. Such love and such blessing would not be a signal of weakness or an overture to surrender, but rather a portent that we had found the true power of our religious heritage. Armed with that power, we can win these culture wars. Without it, we may not deserve to."

While I agree with much of the article, I think there is a problem, well more of a limitation, I suppose, with this approach. And its not unique to this article -- it's a limitation endemic to liberalism across the board in the U.S. The article substitutes the idea of "values" and "message" for political strategy and electoral activism -- when there is a need for both. Love and understanding and good message are not to be confused or conflated with recruiting and fielding good candidates, mobilizing voters and winning elections. There is no evidence that reframing of values, and coming up with better articulations of those values taken by themselves, affect electoral behavior or electoral outcomes.

That said, I do think that people of liberal or progressive values can and should better understand conservatives of all sorts. They should also, as Chip Berlet has persuasively argued in several essays here at Talk to Action -- stop the pointless and counterproductive demonization of conservative Christians. There are those who think that calling conservatives names like "religious political extremists" is smart politics. But this focus-grouped, inside-the-beltway-manufactured style of sloganeering has often substituted for having an actual political and electoral strategy in response to the Christian Right. I think the current composition of Congress ought to give anyone who thinks this stuff is a good idea, considerable pause.

Let me be blunt: there is no substitute for direct engagement as a citizens in electoral politics. Electoral politics is citizenship. It is here that our major civic conversations take place, and choices are made for our communities by electing our governmental representatives to office at all levels. It is the nature of electoral politics that there is some conflict as people differ about what choices should be made -- and by whom. This is normal, and valuable. The avoidance of this conflict means abandoning the playing field to the far-better organized Christian Right.

The Christian Right political movement is crystal clear about this -- and works across the election cycle to build for power sufficient to make their values real in public policy. Liberal and progressive organizations, with a few exceptions, (notably Neighbor-to-Neighbor and Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts), are not so engaged.

Politics begins, but does not end with values. "Message," whether a message of love and understanding, or ruthless labeling and demonization, is only one dimension of political life in our constitutional democracy. A key to the success of the Christian right has been the way that it has integrated participation in civic and electoral life with their values. In fact, that participation is a value in itself. There is no liberal or for that matter, Democratic, "message" that will make much, if any electoral difference, absent a major retooling of our approach to electoral politics.

Crossposted at FrederickClarkson.com.
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Friday, September 23, 2005

Repealing One Civil Right at a Time

Two weeks ago Paul Pressler, the architect of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, described how the Religious Right intended to deal with Roe v. Wade. After expressing his elation with the selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he said, "Roe v. Wade won't be revoked, it will die the death of a thousand cuts and qualifications and regulations until it gradually disappears."

I suspect that Pressler has described the Religious Right's strategy for dealing with more than Roe v. Wade. They are already applying the same strategy to repealing the First Amendment and civil rights legislation.

One of the most egregious examples is the authorization that congress gave churches and religious groups to discriminate in hiring yesterday. Churches and religious groups have always been free to discriminate in their hiring when they were spending money received from private donations. Yesterday congress authorized them to discriminate in hiring with the money they receive from federal grants.

First, this administration opened the flood gates for churches and religious groups to receive billions of dollars from the federal treasury. Now they are permitting the churches and religious groups to ignore laws protecting the civil rights of minorities when using that federal money. Already they have seized on hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to distribute more federal money to faith-based organizations and give vouchers to private and religious schools.

It's not hard to see what is happening here if you just ignore their pious sounding rhetoric and look at the reality of what they are doing. They are slowly creating an established church. It is being established not by a direct act of congress (that would violate the First Amendment which says "congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion"), but indirectly by government appropriations. Christian churches and religious groups are being funded while minority faiths, with tokens here and there for the Jews, are being marginalized as a matter of public policy.

A good example of this establishment of religion by appropriation is taking place in Houston. A couple weeks ago Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman told participants at an Americans United forum that Second Baptist Houston "bought" the right to direct relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the city. He said they came in with a million dollars and offered it for the relief efforts on the condition that they take control of the effort. He also indicated that the church's much publicized assent to work with the interfaith community was forced upon them by the mayor of Houston. Coleman asked, "Why is this church that never showed an interest in helping the poor in the past suddenly interested in leading this effort?" He answered, "They are making an investment. They know that billions of dollars are going to be funneled into this and they are the ones who will be in position to control it."

By the time the graft, corruption and injustice of what is now being done in the name of "faith-based initiatives" and "hurricance relief" is widely known and publicized, the Supreme Court will be stacked with jurists who will deny minority rights and interpret the constitution to mean that Christianity has always been the established religion of our nation.

This entry is cross-posted from the Mainstream Baptist weblog.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Remembering Christian Realism

Sunday's New York Times published an essay on "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr" by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that deserves wide circulation. Niebuhr described his political philosophy as a "Christian Realism" and it corrected the modernist underestimation of human sin and fallibility that was in vogue prior to World War II.

Hopefully Schlesinger's essay will remind American Christians of the rich and mature heritage of theologically informed political thought that existed before the moral majority and Christian coalition took over the public square. Here's the conclusion to Schlesinger's essay:

The last lines of "The Irony of American History," written in 1952, resound more than a half-century later. "If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory."


This entry is cross posted from the Mainstream Baptist weblog
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Blogging Religion and Politics

Religion and politics is a hot topic these days. And one of the very best places to talk about it online will be a new site called Street Prophets. Some of the names over there will be familiar to readers over here. Its the first of a promised series of "spin-off" sites related to The Daily Kos, and the effort is led by pastordan, who is also one of the founders of Talk to Action, which is still inching along to launch into a fully interactive site that will function much like Street Prophets.

So what's the difference?

"Street Prophets is a place to talk about faith and politics," writes pastordan. "That's it. You're welcome to hang around here, on the condition that you're not a jerk or a hater."

At Talk to Action, we will focus on the religious right as a political movement, and what to do about it. That's it. (We will have somewhat more detailed site guidelines, although avoiding jerks and haters will be important over there too.)

Street Prophets lists Talk to Action as among the "friends of the blog." And indeed we are.
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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Richard Lands an Oxymoron

Richard Land, a honcho over at the Southern Baptist Convention has been a pivotal figure in the building of the theocratic movement in the United State for a generation. But in a recent speech reported by The Baptist Press, noted by the fine legal blog Religion Clause he has also made a significant contribution to the wider culture by his high-profile use of an oxymoron.

Dr. Land's distinct, albeit inadvertent, contribution to the culture is not entirely original. Dr. Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Baptist reports that several speakers used the term. However Land gets the credit, because I happened to realize its significance when I read his use of the term. Land's contribution joins the list of such classics as jumbo shrimp, final draft, saying nothing, hot chili, industrial park, junk food, plastic glasses, working vacation, computer jock, incomplete stop, natural additives and, of course, cheap gas.

Drum roll please:

badda badda badda badda badda badda badda badda boom!

Secular Fundamentalist

Ta Da!~

The occasion for Dr. Land's contribution to our culture was his twistedly preposterous argument that "The greatest threat to religious freedom in America are secular fundamentalists who want to ghetto-ize religious faith and make the wall of separation between church and state a prison wall keeping religious voices out of political discourse."

There is no suppression of religious voices in American political discourse. This is variation on the same strawman the Christian Right has been relentlessly knocking down for a generation. What Land and his theocratic cohort don't like is religious equality and separation of church and state. For government to be the protector of the rights of all in religiously diverse society, it cannot be in the business of forming alliances with various sects and coalitions of sects to promote their interests; or promoting religion or religious practices.

Land and the theocratic movement are desperate to claim that there is religious persecution in the U.S. and the stifling of religious expression. This desperation is well-exemplified by their use of term "secular fundamentalist," which is being used to tar the values of those who actually stand for religious freedom; and to reinterpret the Constitution and American history to advance their contemporary political and religious goals.
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Friday, September 16, 2005

Newdow's Case to Return to Supreme Court

Michael Newdow's challenge to forcing school children to recite "under God" in the pledge of allegiance will soon be back before the Supreme Court.

Last year the Supreme Court dismissed the case on a technicality. Newdow refiled the case with new complainants and a District Court in California has upheld the findings of the previous Newdow decision.

This case is the most egregious example of the duplicitous witness of evangelical Christians in American history.

In court, evangelical Christians will argue that the words "under God" do not violate the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a religion because the words have "no significant religious content." In other words, "under God" in the pledge of allegiance does precisely what is proscribed in the ten commandments when men are commanded to not take the name of the Lord God in vain and make it meaningless.

In public, evangelical Christians will argue that the words "under God" refer to the Divine and lament that the courts are persecuting people of faith and trying to kick God out of the public square.

The only prominent figure on the right who does not engage in doublespeak on this issue is Judge Roy Moore. He is open and honest about expressing his belief that Christianity is the established religion of the United States and that the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance mean something.

Although I strongly disagree with Moore about the U.S. having an established religion, I strongly concur with his admission that the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance have religious meaning. They are not symbols of "ceremonial Deism," they are intended to express religious content, and for evangelical lawyers to argue otherwise is an outright lie -- which violates the prohibition in the ten commandments against bearing false witness.

What is the value of breaking two of God's commandments in order to force children to mouth the words "under God" at school?

This entry is cross-posted from the Mainstream Baptist blog.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Conference on Dominionism, Oct. 21-22

Last spring, the Graduate Program of the City University of New York and the New York Open Center, co-sponsored an important conference on the theocratic Christian Right. I was pleased to be among the speakers, and am honored to be participating in the follow-up conference -- along with fellow Talk to Action writers, Chip Berlet and Esther Kaplan -- who will be joining us soon.

Here is some info about the event, and a link to where you can get registration info.

Dominionism, Political Power & the Theocratic Right

Dominionism is an influential form of fundamentalist religion that believes that in order to fulfill biblical prophecy, "godly Christians" must take control of the levers of political and judicial power in America in the near future.... Just how has this religious ideology gained influence in Congress, American political culture, and in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East and on the environment? What can be done to alert concerned citizens to the theocratic impulse growing in their midst? The goal of this seminar is to examine the power and influence of a religious and political movement that questions the separation of church and state, and that aims to establish a biblical society governed by biblical laws.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates; co-author, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort; Frederick Clarkson, author, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; Michael Northcott, teaches Christian Ethics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; author, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire; Esther Kaplan, author, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House.

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm & Saturday Oct. 22 10am-6pm $85; $50 students

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm $15

Saturday October 22 10am-6pm $75

A DVD of highlights from the previous conference Examining the Agenda of the Religious Far Right is available for $19.95. It features Karen Armstrong, Joan Bokaer, Joseph Hough, Robert Edgar, Hugh Urban, Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson.
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Monday, September 12, 2005

Democrats, Religion, and Rhetoric

Less than a third of Americans think the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in July of 2005, only 29% of those surveyed thought Democrats were "religion-friendly;" down from 40% in 2004. More than half of those surveyed--55%--thought the Republicans were friendly toward religion.

At the same time, 45% of those polled thought that “religious conservatives” had too much control over the Republican Party, while 44% thought that “non-religious liberals” had too much control over the Democratic Party.

These results can be interpreted in many ways, but I think they show that the Democratic Party and its allies need to spend more time thinking about how the average American perceives their attitude toward religion.

In reality, millions of people of faith are loyal Democrats. In the past few years, however, many Democratic Party leaders have demonstrated their inability to discuss religion, politics, and the Christian Right using language that teaches rather than trashes. Every week I get postal mail and e-mail solicitations for donations that use demonizing buzz phrases such as “Radical Religious Right,” or “Religious Political Extremist.” That type of rhetoric may scare some people into writing checks in the short run, but it makes it harder in the long run for grassroots organizers to build a broad-based movement for social change that includes people in progressive, liberal, and centrist religious groups.

I do worry about the Christian Right. I worry about separation of church and state. I worry about theocracy and the tendency toward Dominionism that leads some in the Christian Right to seek a form of Christian nationalism that would rewrite Consitutional protections for those with whom they disagree or see as sinful. Frankly, George W. Bush scares me. He owes the Christian Right a bunch of political favors for their electoral support, and he has been delivering.

Most Christian evangelicals, however, are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.

I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”

I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac.

Like I said, it’s just a fantasy, but rhetoric is important. If we are to change the perception that Democrats are not friendly to religion, then a good first step is changing language that is offensive.


Ported from Chip Berlet's Blog
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