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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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Bill Moyers on Confronting the Christian Right

Bill Moyers delivered a powerful address at Union Theological Seminary in New York last week. He drew on central themes of American and Chrisian history to offer perspectives on what Americans need to do to come to grips with the dangerous, anti-democratic Christian Right.

An edited version appears on TomPaine.com.

Its worth sitting down to read Moyers'speech with a cup of coffee, a notebook, and a mind to figure out how we can preserve the best of constitutional democracy in our time, against the most dangerously anti-democratic movement to come along since the McCarthy era. Here is an excerpt to get your mind warmed-up for a stirring read:

"At the Central Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas, where I was baptized in the faith, we believed in a free church in a free state. I still do. My spiritual forbears did not take kindly to living under theocrats who embraced religious liberty for themselves but denied it to others. 'Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils,' thundered the dissenter Roger Williams as he was banished from Massachusetts for denying Puritan authority over his conscience.

In l651 the Baptist Obadiah Holmes was given 30 stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated the law and took forbidden communion with another Baptist in Lynn, Massachusetts. His friends offered to pay his fine for his release but he refused. They offered him strong drink to anesthetize the pain of the flogging. Again he refused. It is the love of liberty, he said, 'that must free the soul.'

Such revolutionary ideas made the new nation with its Constitution and Bill of Rights 'a haven for the cause of conscience.' No longer could magistrates order citizens to support churches they did not attend and recite creeds that they did not believe. No longer would 'the loathsome combination of church and state' -- as Thomas Jefferson described it--be the settled order. Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with religious wars and persecution, the government of America would take no sides in the religious free-for-all that liberty would make possible and politics would make inevitable.

The First Amendment neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against it. Americans could be loyal to the Constitution without being hostile to God, or they could pay no heed to God without fear of being mugged by an official God Squad. It has been a remarkable arrangement that guaranteed 'soul freedom.'.....


Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose what little power they have. Trying to learn to talk about God as Republicans do, they're talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them -- the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America 'a safe haven for the cause of conscience.'

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson about democracy stands above all others: Bullies--political bullies, economic bullies and religious bullies--cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don't fight fair; Robert's Rules of Order is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front -- and especially freedom of conscience -- never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting."
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Monday, September 05, 2005

Anti-Abortion "Emergency" Mocks Real Needs

By Cyn Cooper

Missouri is about to enter into a political exercise that mocks the tragedies in New Orleans by its wholesale anti-abortion political pandering.

Governor Matt Blunt of Missouri called a special "Emergency Session" of the state legislature. What's the emergency? Housing for Katrina survivors? Terrorists? Strapped schools? Oil prices?

No, the emergency, says Governor Blunt, is that teenagers might cross state lines to get an abortion. According to the Kansas City Star, Blunt said the Legislature's failure to approve anti-abortion measures in May poses "an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare" of Missouri residents.


At a projected cost of $100,000, the state legislature will convene immediately following Labor Day to consider anti-abortion legislation that the state failed to pass in its regular session.

The legislation, SB 2, shouldn't be passed in any scenario or any session. That the session is opening now when people across the country are seeing the real devastation of real emergencies is simply sick.

One measure will make anyone liable for giving information to a teenager who then gets an abortion out-of-state, including across the bridge from St. Louis in Illinois. This gag order could shut down a Clergy Consultation Service, said Rev. Rebecca Turner, executive director of the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Anyone who actually helps a teen go across state lines can be sued, even for loaning a car. [9-10-05 -- I originally said they could go to prison, but Rev. Turner kindly corrected me on that.] The idea, it seems, is to force teens to navigate on their own, not unlike those left behind for days on the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that teens can go to court and present their situation to a judge if they can't get consent from their parents and a state requires it. Missouri wants to make that harder, too, by limiting adult assistance to a teen who needs to go to court. Oh ... the law may allow an exception if the teen is an incest survivor.

The state is also expected to pass miles of red-tape that will make it harder, if not impossible, for clinics in the state to operate. They will be declared ambulatory surgery centers, and must have hospital privileges within 30 miles. [Update 9-10-05: I originally thought the teen consent called for 15 years in prison, but it's doctors who do abortions but have hospital privileges beyond 30 miles. Abortion doctors travel long distances because providers are scarce. LEgal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in any medical catalog.) This 'regulate-them-off-the-map' strategy of the anti-abortion movement, first started by a rabid anti-abortion group, Life Dynamics in Texas, doesn't seem to bother the right-wingers, who argue at every other turn against government regulation.

In fact, like Gov. Blunt, many wrap their warped concepts into the thin cloth that they are helping women. That's the so-called "health and welfare" emergency in Missouri. But, where is the emergency contraception that women really want? And the support for birth control, asks Planned Parenthood of Kansas and MidMissouri?

Planned Parenthood of MidMissouri has a petition online to oppose this measure. Prochoice groups will rally at the state capitol on September 14.

In St. Louis, NARAL ProChoice Missouri is also taking busloads to the rally, has phone banks going and will host a presentation of Words of Choice at 7 p.m. on September 14 in St.Louis . A discussion of what's happening in Missouri will follow.

If there is an emergency in Missouri, it's the need for someone to blow the whistle on Gov. Blunt and the anti-abortion groups that trail him, and to tell them to get a grip on reality. The country has too many pressing needs to allow this massive anti-abortion diversion sap any more of our time and energy.
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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Banned Books Week in the Spotlight

The 25th annual Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association for Free Expression, among others, and which will be held September 24 - October 1 -- is getting national media attention.

The Associated Press reports:

Attempts to have library books removed from shelves increased by more than 20 percent in 2004 over the previous year, according to a new survey by the American Library Association.

Three books with gay themes, including Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," were among the works most criticized.

"It all stems from a fearfulness of well-meaning people," says Michael Gorman, president of the library association. "We believe in parental responsibility, and that you should take care of what your children are reading. But it's not your responsibility to tell a whole class of kids what they should read."

The number of books challenged last year jumped to 547, compared to 458 in 2003, with the library association estimating four to five unreported cases for each one documented. According to the ALA, a challenge is "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

National [Christian Right] organizations such as the American Family Association have been involved with library challenges, but far more complaints come from individual parents and patrons, according to the ALA."


The American Library Association states in thier press release:

Thousands of libraries and bookstores will sponsor events and exhibits speaking out against attempts like these to censor books and celebrating the freedom to read during Banned Books Week. An Alabama librarian plans to bring author Chris Crutcher, whose book "Whale Talk" was banned in Limestone County schools, to discuss his books and experiences with censorship. South Dakota State University library hosts petitions calling for the release of imprisoned writers. And the first-ever Downtown Omaha Lit Fest will salute Banned Books Week with readings and an art exhibit.

A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

"I believe the more we exercise our freedom to read and read widely, the better equipped we are to make good decisions and govern ourselves," [ALA president Michael] Gorman said. "Controversial ideas should be debated, not driven into dark alleys."


To find out more about Banned Books Week, click here.
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Friday, September 02, 2005

Antiabortion Militants Outraged: Planned Parenthood Helps Out

Apparently militant antiabortion activist Jim Sedlak thinks refugees from Katrina who have lost everything should have to pay for reproductive health services -- even if they are raped -- or (heaven forbid), happen to be so fortunate as to have consensual sex.

Antiabortion leader Sedlak is outraged that Planned Parenthood of Houston is providing a free month of birth control pills and free emergency contraception to refugees from Katrina. He considers is a "publicity stunt" -- and issued a national press release to say so:

"While Planned Parenthood's latest stunt is disgusting and utterly inappropriate, it is not surprising," said Sedlak of STOPP International, a subsidiary of the American Life League. "The bottom line is that Planned Parenthood is out to promote its own agenda and will stop at nothing to take advantage of an opportunity to do so... the organization is exploiting one of the worst natural disasters in American history for cheap publicity by offering one month's supply of free birth control and so-called emergency contraception to victims of Katrina.

Here is the real story:

Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas has announced that it "is working closely with Planned Parenthood of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta (PPLAMD) to ensure that individuals from Louisiana can continue to get birth control and other reproductive health services during the current crisis. PPLAMD provides services in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. As of August 30th, the Baton Rouge clinic has re-opened, New Orleans has not. Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas has offered to those fleeing Hurricane Katrina one free cycle (one month) of birth control or one free Emergency Contraception kit to women presenting to a PPHSET clinic with a valid Louisiana or Mississippi driver's license."

Donations to help Louisiana Planned Parenthood can be made here.
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