by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice, March 28th, 2002
We’re developing a historical pattern in this country of
waging wars, defeating enemies, and then in one way or another, emulating those
who we defeat. We defeated the
Soviet Union in the Cold War, then trashed our anti-trust laws and developed a
corporate dominated command economy just as the Russians were developing a free
market. We defeated the Nazis, then
continued their war against communism, going as far as to recruit their former
intelligence officers to help organize our CIA. Now we’ve defeated the Taliban
– the world’s most oppressive theocratic state, only to begin blurring our
own cherished separation of church and state.
The Bush regime (I use the word “regime” since the term
“government” usually refers to an elected body), through its “faith
based” initiative, is diverting billions of taxpayer dollars to religious
organizations who are replacing elected governments as social services
providers. As we are funding these
groups, however, we are also exempting them from federal, state and local
antidiscrimination laws. Currently,
a federal contractor providing hot meals for seniors, for example, can refuse to
hire Catholics, Muslims or Jews as cooks or janitors. Likewise, they can bar gays, single mothers, musicians and a
host of others from employment. A
Republican sponsored bill passed last year by the House of Representatives on a
largely party-line vote, in fact, specifically protects the “rights” of
church-based government contractors to continue such discrimination, even as
they receive increasing amounts of our tax dollars.
The best known of these organizations, The Salvation Army,
earned national notoriety last year when it fired a social worker at a domestic
violence center on the grounds that she was a lesbian.
The Salvation Army was so adamant about protecting their “right” to
discriminate against gays and others, that following the controversy over the
incident, they began boosting $110,000 per month from their charity kettles to
hire a bank of lobbyists to promote Bush’s “faith based” initiative –
under agreement with the White House that organizations such as theirs would
continue to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws while sucking off the
public teat. Currently, according to Americans United for Separation of Church
and State, the Salvation Army receives approximately $300 million per year from
the federal government while barring gays from working in their programs.
The Salvation Army is far from the worst of the homophobic
hate groups and individuals using God’s name to justify the oppression of
gays. Chief Justice Roy Moore of
the Alabama Supreme Court recently weighed in on a custody case involving a
lesbian mother, writing that homosexuality was a “crime” and a
“violation” of the laws of [his] God, “upon which,” he writes, “this
nation and our laws are predicated.” Most
frightening, however, was the Judge’s expression of sentiments more fitting to
a Taliban Mullah, as he asserted that the state had the obligation to combat
homosexuality, using, as he put it, “the power of the sword, that is, the
power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even
execution.” Moore was last
in the news in 2001 when he erected, in the Alabama Supreme Court building, a
5,000 pound tablet with the ten commandments inscribed upon it – two or three
of which he now proposes violating with his violent denunciation of gays
Bible Study at
the Justice Department
Just because Moore and others of his ilk have taken Talib-like
stands against homosexuality, does not mean that they have any warmth or even
toleration for Islam, either in its secular or fundamentalist form.
The most frightening anti-Islamic barb came from the nation’s
highest-ranking law enforcement officer, the Bush regime’s Attorney General,
John Ashcroft, who remarked, “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to
send your son to die for him - Christianity is a faith in which God sends his
son to die for you.” The remark would have been offensive, even coming from a
fundamentalist preacher in his own church, since it is based on an ignorance
borne out of intolerance – mainstream Islam, like Christianity, allows neither
suicide nor murder. Coming from the
supposed Attorney General of the United States, the person whose job it is to
protect the religious rights of all Americans, the remark is repugnant
and indicative of a looming constitutional crisis.
The United States was founded not as a Christian nation, as
many in Bush’s cabinet now argue, but as a pluralistic nation whose strengths
lie in its diversity. The Attorney
General’s job is to protect our sacred separation of church and state - a
separation that guarantees all Americans the right to practice the religious
beliefs of their choice, not those dictated or encouraged by any particular
state or political party. Ashcroft
is not only unsuited for this responsibility, he makes a mockery of it, using
Justice Department facilities to lead daily fundamentalist Christian bible study
classes, which he conducts for his subordinates on Justice department time.
For those employees of the Justice Department who don’t share
Ashcroft’s religion, the environment is oppressive. The prognosis of such a
Justice Department, under siege from those who abhor our historic American
values, protecting our rights to remain a pluralistic nation, looks dim.
Most frightening are the new federal judges appointed by
Reagan, Bush Daddy and now, by Junior Bush.
Bush’s latest nominee for a position as Federal Circuit Judge, is
Charles Pickering, the former President of the Baptist Convention of
Mississippi. Prior to his
incarnation as a Bush appointee to the bench, Pickering had supported convening
a Constitutional Convention to use amendments to rewrite the U.S, Constitution
to reverse laws protecting church-state separation and banning segregation.
Pickering is not an aberration in the Republican Party –
he is the norm. Tom Delay, the
third highest ranking Republican in the House of representatives, recently told
guests at a luncheon sponsored by the Center for Christian Statesmanship, that
we have to support Bush’s “faith based” initiative in order to stand up
and “rebuke this notion of separation of church and state.”
He went on to clarify his position, explaining, “I don’t believe
there is a separation of church and state.” With the “War on Terrorism”
and ersatz “patriotism” monopolizing news coverage, Delay’s remarks
challenging fundamental American beliefs and values flew unnoticed under the
Tom Delay, however, is not simply a wacko preaching
intolerance in a backyard tent – he’s one of the most powerful lawmakers in
the country. Hence, it should be of
no surprise that two bills are pending in congress to change IRS codes to allow
chartered not-for-profit tax-exempt religious organizations to raise money for
political lobbying and political candidates.
Currently, the bill is being cosponsored by no less than 110 members of
congress – each one of them presumably an opponent of church-state separation.
The bill, termed “The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act,” (H.R. 2357) was
drafted by Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.
Robertson is probably the most frightening of all of the theocrats
campaigning to turn the US into a Fundamentalist Christian state. Robertson, a
Republican party activist, former Presidential candidate, and founder of the
inappropriately named Christian Coalition, doesn’t just want to see a
theocratic state run by Christians – he’s rather particular about which
Christians he wants to see run it. Speaking
on his 700 Club television program, Robertson rebuked non-Baptist Christian
denominations, arguing, “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the
Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that and the
other thing, nonsense! I don’t
have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.”
Robertson’s handpicked director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed,
in 1996, praised an anti-Catholic book put out by the former editor of the
Coalition’s newspaper, John Wheeler. Wheeler
wrote of a “Satanically empowered” Vatican and warned of a coming Satanic
Pope. Reed called the book
Enron: A Higher
Reed has since left the religion racket to answer to a
higher calling, going on to work for Enron as a Washington lobbyist.
According to a memo Reed penned, which was later obtained by The
Washington Post, Reed promised to use his ties to right-wing religious
figures to push Enron’s divinely anointed political agenda for energy
deregulation. Reed proudly pointed
out to Enron officials that his consulting firm had a track record for
mobilizing what he called the “minority community” and the “faith
community” in order to achieve his clients’ political goals.
Robertson also departed from the Christian Coalition, but
not before amassing a personal fortune estimated at over $150 million.
Seemingly ignoring the old biblical adage about the difficulties a rich
man would face trying to get into heaven, Robertson recently entered into some
very un-Godlike business ventures, investing in racehorses and attempting to
reopen a Los Angeles area oil refinery. The
horses are still running, but the refinery deal fell through after citizens’
groups won a court injunction against the Robertson on environmental grounds.
Robertson had also entered into a gold mining venture in partnership with
Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who, according to The Washington Post,
is well known in Africa for ordering the brutal and barbaric torture of
political opponents. Robertson is
also negotiating with the Chinese government for rights to start an Internet
company in that country.
Despite his departure from the Christian Coalition,
Robertson is still one of the main proponents for a theocratic American state.
In January, claiming to speak for God, he told his followers that the day
of judgment will soon fall upon America, that God was angry with us, for, among
other things, having non-Christian religious beliefs, described by Robertson as
“Sorcery” and “Idolatry.” God’s
wrath in 2002, according to Robertson, will likely strike Detroit or San
Francisco. The warning echo’s
Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell’s diatribe, which he delivered on
Robertson’s September 13th TV show, blaming the 9-11 attacks not on
terrorists, but on God, as retribution against homosexuals, civil libertarians
and others on his enemies list. Both
men have the right to preach hate, but when they arrogantly attribute their own
hateful speech to God, they are on shaky theocratic ground, violating the one of
the same ten commandments that they’re supposedly fighting so hard to have
posted in public schools and courts (#3 Thou shall Not Take the Name of Thy Lord
Your God in Vain).
The theocratic onslaught against America runs the gambit
from scary to downright weird. There’s
the Florida mayor who barred “Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil,
destroyer of what is good and just,” from entering her city – at least by
road, as the city’s public work’s department installed anti-Satan poles
containing a rolled up version of the mayor’s proclamation, at the four roads
leading into the city. There’s
South Carolina’s anti-terrorism bill, which, in the interest of protecting the
citizenry from terrorist attacks, mandates that public schools post the phrase,
“In God We Trust.” Then
there’s John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, always good for a joke these
days, which just spent $8,000 to drape a blue curtain over the Department’s
bare breasted statue of Justice, which otherwise has stood without controversy
for 66 years. Ashcroft never made
clear his need to hide the nation’s symbol of Justice from view, but his move
bears a strange resemblance to the Taliban habit of cutting the faces out of all
the murals in Afghanistan.
It gets stranger and scarier. One can’t just declare the US a theocratic state, since we
don’t have a majority religious denomination.
Two Florida lawmakers, however, think they’ve found an answer to this
little problem, proposing a bill to allow school prayer at special events along
with the election of a prayer leader who, following the winner take all model of
American elections, would then get to chose to which god all the students would
pray. But this isn’t the way
religion works. Belief comes from
the heart, not the ballot box.
Religion has been taking a beating these days.
The concept is noble, with almost every religion in the world preaching
some variation of the “peace on earth and goodwill to all people” theme.
Many of the most active movements for labor rights, global justice and
environmental sanity have traditionally been based in ecumenical communities.
From the movement against environmentally unsustainable conspicuous
consumption, right on through to the TV turnoff movement, liberation theologists
have played critical roles. Religion
builds community in an alienating society.
It’s not bad stuff.
But the flip side is dark. Real dark. It involves people truly believing that their way is the only way. Most of the forty-odd wars waging in the world today have religious conflict as their catalyst. We all love God, but slaughter each other in his or her name. Theocratic states and the attempts to create them have always led to repression. The name “God” has been used “in vain” by genocidal movements the world over. The Pilgrims thanked God for the smallpox epidemics that wiped out their native neighbors, opening their cleared land for colonial development. The Puritans prayed to God before slaughtering their Narragansett neighbors. The Jesuits blessed the Spanish genocide against natives in the Caribbean, often with a Priest reading El Requerimiento to the natives as soldiers took their land and their lives. Our nation’s roots lie with a religious justification for a hemispheric holocaust, but in creating the constitution we re-wrote the rules and supposedly rose above medieval barbarism. Let’s not let the current regime occupying the White House drag us back to the dark ages.
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Copyright 2002 - Michael I. Niman