Tag: separation of church and state

Right-Wing Religion’s War on America

From: Church and State Magazine

By: Rob Boston

“From a posh residence in the heart of New York City that has been described as a “mini-mansion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan is perhaps the most visible representative of an American church empire of 60 million adherents and vast financial holdings.

Dolan and his fellow clergy move easily through the corridors of political power, courted by big-city mayors, governors and even presidents. In the halls of Congress, they are treated with a deference no secular lobbyist can match.

From humble origins in America, the church has risen to lofty heights marked by affluence, political influence and social respect. Yet, according to church officials, they are being increasingly persecuted, and their rights are under sustained attack.

The refrain has become commonplace: There is a “war on religion.” Faith is under assault. The administration of President Barack Obama has unleashed a bombardment on religion unlike anything ever seen.

The average American would be hard-pressed to see evidence of this “war.” Millions of people meet regularly in houses of worship. What’s more, those institutions are tax exempt. Many denominations participate in taxpayer-funded social service programs. Their clergy regularly speak out on the issues of the day. In the political arena, religious leaders are treated with great respect.

Furthermore, religious organizations often get special breaks that aren’t accorded to their secular counterparts. Houses of worship aren’t required to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status; they receive it automatically as soon as they form. Religious entities are routinely exempted from employment laws, anti-discrimination measures and even routine health and safety inspections.

Unlike secular lobbies, religious groups that work with legislators on Capitol Hill don’t have to register with the federal government and are free from the stringent reporting requirements imposed on any group that seeks to influence legislation.

Religion in America would seem to be thriving in this “hands-off” atmosphere, as evidenced by church attendance rates, which in the United States tend to be higher than any other Western nation. So where springs this “war on religion” talk?

Twin dynamics, mutually related and interdependent, are likely at work. On one hand, some religious groups are upping their demands for even more exemptions from general laws. When these are not always extended, leaders of these groups scream about hostility toward religion and say they are being discriminated against. This catches the attention of right-wing political leaders, who toss gasoline on the rhetorical fires.

A textbook example of this occurred during the recent flap over coverage of contraceptives under the new health care reform. The law seeks to ensure a baseline of coverage for all Americans, and birth control is included. Insurance firms that contract with companies must make it available with no co-pays.

Houses of worship are exempt from this requirement. But religiously affiliated organizations, such as church-run hospitals, colleges and social service agencies, are dealt with differently. The insurance companies that serve them must make contraceptives available to the employees of these entities, but the religious agencies don’t have to pay for them directly.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) attacked this policy and insisted that it violates the church’s right of conscience. Furthermore, the hierarchy insisted that all private employers should also have the right to deny any medical coverage that conflicts with their beliefs – no matter what the religious views of their employees.

The issue quickly became mired in partisan politics. Claims of a “war on religion” expand on long-held Religious Right seasonal claims of an alleged “war on Christmas.” The assertions of yuletide hostility paid great dividends to the Religious Right. They boosted groups’ fund-raising efforts and motivated some activists to get involved in politics.

Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy are hoping for a similar payoff through their claims of a war on religion.

With the economy improving, Republicans may be on the verge of losing a powerful piece of ammunition to use against Obama. The party’s Religious Right faction is eager to push social issues to the front and center as a way of mobilizing the base.

Many political leaders are happy to parrot this line. For the time being, they’ve latched on to the birth control issue as their leading example of this alleged war.

To hear these right-wing politicians tell it, asking a religiously affiliated institution that is heavily subsidized with taxpayer funds to allow an insurance company to provide birth control to those who want it is a great violation of “religious liberty.”

In mid February, House members went so far as to hold a hearing on the matter before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stacking it with a bevy of religious leaders who oppose the rule on contraceptives. Among them was Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads up a new Catholic lobbying effort on this and other social issues.

Americans United submitted testimony to the committee, but Republicans on the panel denied the Democrats’ request to hear testimony from Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School who supports the contraceptive mandate, thus leaving the panel stacked with religious figures – mostly men – who are hostile to contraceptives. (See “No Fluke,” April 2012 Church & State.)

The idea was to create the impression that the religious community – and by extension the American public – is up in arms over the regulation. In fact, the religious figures who spoke at the event were from ultra-conservative traditions that represent just one segment of religion in America. Many religious leaders and denominations support access to contraceptives, and several polls have shown support for the Obama administration’s position hovering at around 65 percent. (Polls also show that many American Catholics disagree with the church hierarchy on this issue.)

This isn’t surprising in a country where use of contraceptives is widespread. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of women who engage in sexual activity will use at least one artificial form of birth control at some point in their lives.

Contraceptives are also often prescribed for medical reasons, such as shrinking ovarian cysts or relieving menstrual pain. Americans respect religious liberty, but most believe it can be maintained while safeguarding access to needed medications.

Most Americans, in fact, understand the need to balance rights. Religious organizations have the right to believe and preach what they want, but their ability to rely on government to help them spread these views is necessarily limited.

In addition, valid social goals can override an overly broad definition of religious liberty. In some states, fundamentalist Christian parents have been ordered by courts to take their children to doctors. The theory is that a child’s right to live free of sickness and disease outweighs the parents’ religious liberty concerns.

In addition, religious liberty has not traditionally been construed as license to trample on the rights of others.

“People who cry moral indignation about government-mandated contraception coverage appear unwilling to concede that the exercise of their deeply held convictions might infringe on the rights of millions of people who are burdened by unplanned pregnancy or want to reduce abortion or would like to see their tax dollars committed to a different purpose,” wrote Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and administrator at Harvard College, on a Time magazine blog recently.

The courts have long recognized this need to balance rights. In the late 19th century, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down plural marriage, which was then practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon practice, the court held, was disruptive to society and had no roots in Western tradition; thus it could be banned.

In the modern era, the court devised a test whereby government could restrict religious liberty if it could demonstrate a “compelling state interest” and that it had employed the “least restrictive means” to meets its goals.

That standard was tightened even further in 1990, when the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case known as Employment Division v. Smith. The decision, written by arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, held that government has no obligation to exempt religious entities from “neutral” laws that are “generally applicable.”

Since then, many religious groups have turned to the political process to win exemptions from the law. Generally speaking, they’ve been very successful. In a ground-breaking 2006 New York Times series, the newspaper chronicled the various exemptions from the law granted to religious organizations covering areas like immigration, land use, employment regulations, safety inspections and others.

The Times reported that since 1989, “more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation….” The paper noted that other breaks “have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.”

But religious groups, like any other special interest, don’t get everything they want. On occasions when they’ve failed, some religious organizations have been quick to complain that discrimination or a hostility toward religion did them in. In fact, political leaders might have simply concluded that certain demands of religious groups are not in the best interests of larger society.

Is there any evidence that Obama is stingier with exemptions than past administrations or that the president has it in for religious groups? Not really.

Under Obama, the “faith-based” initiative, an idea that goes back to the days of George W. Bush, has continued to flourish. Obama even stepped back from a vow he made while campaigning in 2008 to require religious groups that receive support from the taxpayer to drop discriminatory hiring policies.

Mother Jones magazine reported in February that if Obama is hostile to religion, he has an odd way of showing it.

“But all the outrage about religious freedom has overshadowed a basic truth about the Obama administration: When it comes to religious organizations and their treatment by the federal government, the Obama administration has been extremely generous,” reported Stephanie Mencimer for the magazine. “Religious groups have benefited handsomely from Obama’s stimulus package, budgets, and other policies. Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from.”

Obama’s Justice Department hasn’t always pleased religious conservatives, but it has hardly been hostile to faith. The department sided with the state of Arizona in defending at the Supreme Court a private school tax-credit scheme that overwhelmingly benefits religious schools, going so far as to assist with oral arguments before the justices. When a federal court struck down the National Day of Prayer as a church-state violation in 2010, the administration criticized the ruling and quickly filed an appeal.

“If Obama is ‘warring’ against religion, he’s doing it with a popgun and a rubber knife,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Washington Times recently. “On core religious freedom issues, they have been moderate, to a fault…. It’s not much of a war.”

Other observers note that in a nation where the government’s regulatory touch over religiously affiliated institutions is exceedingly light, it’s hard to take claims of a war on religion seriously.

People who claim the government is hostile to religion are either insincere or uninformed,” said Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University. “Religious entities enjoy a host of benefits and advantages that their non-religous counterparts lack.

Green, who was legal director at Americans United during the 1990’s, added, “At the same time, many religious entities that enjoy exemptions from neutral regulations receive subsidies from the government for their operations. Rather than there being a ‘war on religion,’ the government surrendered its regulatory forces a long time ago.”

Rob Boston is senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Rob, who has worked at Americans United since 1987, also serves as assistant editor of AU’s “Church & State” magazine. Rob is the author of three books: “Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics” (Prometheus Books, 2000); “The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition” (Prometheus Books, 1996) and “Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State” (Prometheus Books, 1993; second edition, 2003).

Emphasis mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/154929/right-wing_religion%27s_war_on_america?akid=8589.123424.Ne4e-e&rd=1&t=5

Finally, A Poll Gets the Contraception Question Right

From: RD

By: Sarah Posner

“As I’ve been discussing over the past couple of days, polls are all over the place in attempting to assess public opinion on the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act, because the questions are framed in such disparate ways. But today Public Religion Research Institute is out with a new poll that shows widespread support for the policy, based on the most lucid and accurate question on the matter.

  • PRRI asked the question this way:should employers“be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost?”PRRI broke down the question for different types of employers, a methodology that gets to the heart of the various ways the opponents of birth control coverage have framed their objections. Support rises the more attenuated the relationship is with a church or house of worship: churches and other houses of worship (42%) ; religiously affiliated social service agencies (52%); privately owned small businesses (53%); religiously affiliated colleges (54%); religiously affiliated hospitals (57%); and publicly held corporations (62%).

    According to PRRI’s data, “Catholics overall are generally more supportive than the general public of the contraception coverage requirements.” The flock isn’t following the Bishops, whoyesterday pledged to continue their opposition to the policy and to what they claim are other threats to the religious liberty. The Bishops, though, have non-Catholic supporters: “White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group that opposes requiring any type of employer to provide their employees with no cost contraception coverage:”

    Insurance Mandate e1331743980662 Survey | Majority of Americans Do Not Believe Religious Liberty is Under Attack

    At the heart of the evangelical opposition, I think, is their belief that the separation of church and state means the government shouldn’t interfere with the affairs of the church, rather than the government should avoid endorsing or imposing a particular religious view. There’s evidence the Bishops believe this as well, but that hasn’t translated into a a cultural movement among Catholics that promotes this idea. (The survey also asked if separation of church and state is being threatened in America. Forty five percent of respondents said yes, while 48% said no.)

    Also, according to the poll, a majority of Americans do not believe that religious liberty is threatened in America. Still, though, 39% do believe this to be true, although only 6% of those identified the contraception mandate as the way that liberty is being threatened. That obviously doesn’t capture the full measure of opposition to the requirement, but it does shed light on how little the right-wing talking point about it has failed to rise to the hysteria some politicians obviously hoped it would.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/5798/

War on xmas?

In his nation, we don’t have a War on xmas – we have a War on the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The free expression clause of the first amendment gives us the right to practice or not practice any religion, even one practiced by the majority; respect for individuality and diversity means everyone should stay within their boundaries and not attempt to force their views on others.

“In the United States, religion is not a majoritarian issue” – Federal judge John E. Jones III ( A conservative Republican and GW Bush appointee, who made the decision in the Dover PA intelligent design case.)

N.B.: Occupiers might note the assemble clause, and those who wish to establish a theocracy might note the establishment clause.

N.B.: my use of ‘xmas’ as opposed to ‘christmas’ is both my first amendment right, and intentionally contrarian.

The Christian Nation Myth

The Christian Nation Myth

 

From: The Secular Web

By: Farrell Till

“Whenever the Supreme Court makes a decision that in any way restricts the intrusion of religion into the affairs of government, a flood of editorials, articles, and letters protesting the ruling is sure to appear in the newspapers. Many protesters decry these decisions on the grounds that they conflict with the wishes and intents of the “founding fathers.”

Such a view of American history is completely contrary to known facts. The primary leaders of the so-called founding fathers of our nation were not Bible-believing Christians; they were deists. Deism was a philosophical belief that was widely accepted by the colonial intelligentsia at the time of the American Revolution. Its major tenets included belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems and belief in a supreme deity who created the universe to operate solely by natural laws. The supreme God of the Deists removed himself entirely from the universe after creating it. They believed that he assumed no control over it, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation to man. A necessary consequence of these beliefs was a rejection of many doctrines central to the Christian religion. Deists did not believe in the virgin birth, divinity, or resurrection of Jesus, the efficacy of prayer, the miracles of the Bible, or even the divine inspiration of the Bible.

These beliefs were forcefully articulated by Thomas Paine in Age of Reason, a book that so outraged his contemporaries that he died rejected and despised by the nation that had once revered him as “the father of the American Revolution.” To this day, many mistakenly consider him an atheist, even though he was an out spoken defender of the Deistic view of God. Other important founding fathers who espoused Deism were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, James Madison, and James Monroe.

Fundamentalist Christians are currently working overtime to convince the American public that the founding fathers intended to establish this country on “biblical principles,” but history simply does not support their view.” (N.B.: In fact, the first four of the Ten Commandments are in violation of the First Amendment – chasdarwin). “The men mentioned above and others who were instrumental in the founding of our nation were in no sense Bible-believing Christians. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, was fiercely anti-cleric. In a letter to Horatio Spafford in 1814, Jefferson said, “In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them, and to effect this, they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes” (George Seldes, The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey Citadel Press, 1983, p. 371). In a letter to Mrs. Harrison Smith, he wrote, “It is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. By the same test the world must judge me. But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest” (August 6, 1816).

Jefferson was just as suspicious of the traditional belief that the Bible is “the inspired word of God.” He rewrote the story of Jesus as told in the New Testament and compiled his own gospel version known as The Jefferson Bible, which eliminated all miracles attributed to Jesus and ended with his burial. The Jeffersonian gospel account contained no resurrection, a twist to the life of Jesus that was considered scandalous to Christians but perfectly sensible to Jefferson’s Deistic mind. In a letter to John Adams, he wrote, “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise” (August 15, 1820). In saying this, Jefferson was merely expressing the widely held Deistic view of his time, which rejected the mysticism of the Bible and relied on natural law and human reason to explain why the world is as it is. Writing to Adams again, Jefferson said, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter” (April 11, 1823). These were hardly the words of a devout Bible-believer.

Jefferson didn’t just reject the Christian belief that the Bible was “the inspired word of God”; he rejected the Christian system too. In Notes on the State of Virginia, he said of this religion, “There is not one redeeming feature in our superstition of Christianity. It has made one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites” (quoted by newspaper columnist William Edelen, “Politics and Religious Illiteracy,” Truth Seeker, Vol. 121, No. 3, p. 33). Anyone today who would make a statement like this or others we have quoted from Jefferson’s writings would be instantly branded an infidel, yet modern Bible fundamentalists are frantically trying to cast Jefferson in the mold of a Bible believing Christian. They do so, of course, because Jefferson was just too important in the formation of our nation to leave him out if Bible fundamentalists hope to sell their “Christian-nation” claim to the public. Hence, they try to rewrite history to make it appear that men like Thomas Jefferson had intended to build our nation on “biblical principles.” The irony of this situation is that the Christian leaders of Jefferson’s time knew where he stood on “biblical principles,” and they fought desperately, but unsuccessfully, to prevent his election to the presidency. Saul K. Padover‘s biography related the bitterness of the opposition that the clergy mounted against Jefferson in the campaign of 1800

The religious issue was dragged out, and stirred up flames of hatred and intolerance. Clergymen, mobilizing their heaviest artillery of thunder and brimstone, threatened Christians with all manner of dire consequences if they should vote for the “in fidel” from Virginia. This was particularly true in New England, where the clergy stood like Gibraltar against Jefferson (Jefferson A Great American’s Life and Ideas, Mentor Books, 1964, p.116).

William Linn, a Dutch Reformed minister in New York City, made perhaps the most violent of all attacks on Jefferson’s character, all of it based on religious matters. In a pamphlet entitled Serious Considerations on the Election of a President, Linn “accused Jefferson of the heinous crimes of not believing in divine revelation and of a design to destroy religion and `introduce immorality'” (Padover, p. 116). He referred to Jefferson as a “true infidel” and insisted that “(a)n infidel like Jefferson could not, should not, be elected” (Padover, p. 117). He concluded the pamphlet with this appeal for “Christians to defeat the `infidel’ from Virginia”

Will you, then, my fellow-citizens, with all this evidence… vote for Mr. Jefferson?… As to myself, were Mr. Jefferson connected with me by the nearest ties of blood, and did I owe him a thousand obligations, I would not, and could not vote for him. No; sooner than stretch forth my hand to place him at the head of the nation “Let mine arms fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone” (quoted by Padover, p. 117).

Why would contemporary clergymen have so vigorously opposed Jefferson’s election if he were as devoutly Christian as modern preachers claim? The answer is that Jefferson was not a Christian, and the preachers of his day knew that he wasn’t.

In the heat of the campaign Jefferson wrote a letter to Benjamin Rush in which he angrily commented on the clerical efforts to assassinate his personal character “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” That statement has been inscribed on Jefferson’s monument in Washington. Most people who read it no doubt think that Jefferson was referring to political tyrants like the King of England, but in reality, he was referring to the fundamentalist clergymen of his day.

After Jefferson became president, he did not compromise his beliefs. As president, he refused to issue Thanksgiving proclamations, a fact that Justice Souter referred to in his concurring opinion with the majority in Lee vs. Weisman, the recent supreme-court decision that ruled prayers at graduation ceremonies unconstitutional. Early in his first presidential term, Jefferson declared his firm belief in the separation of church and state in a letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptists “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

Before sending the letter to Danbury, Jefferson asked his attorney general, Levi Lincoln, to review it. Jefferson told Lincoln that he considered the letter a means of “sowing useful truths and principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets” (quoted by Rob Boston in “Myths and Mischief,” Church and State, March 1992). If this was indeed Jefferson’s wish, he certainly succeeded. Twice, in Reynolds vs. the United States (1879) and Everson vs. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court cited Jefferson’s letter as “an authoritative declaration of the scope of the [First] Amendment” and agreed that the intention of the First Amendment was “to erect `a wall of separation between church and state.'” Confronted with evidence like this, some fundamentalists will admit that Thomas Jefferson was not a Bible-believer but will insist that most of the other “founding fathers”–men like Washington, Madison, and Franklin–were Christians whose intention during the formative years of our country was to establish a “Christian nation.” Again, however, history does not support their claim.

James Madison, Jefferson’s close friend and political ally, was just as vigorously opposed to religious intrusions into civil affairs as Jefferson was. In 1785, when the Commonwealth of Virginia was considering passage of a bill “establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” Madison wrote his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” in which he presented fifteen reasons why government should not be come involved in the support of any religion. This paper, long considered a landmark document in political philosophy, was also cited in the majority opinion in Lee vs. Weisman. The views of Madison and Jefferson prevailed in the Virginia Assembly, and in 1786, the Assembly adopted the statute of religious freedom of which Jefferson and Madison were the principal architects. The preamble to this bill said that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” The statute itself was much more specific than the establishment clause of the U. S. Constitution “Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise [sic] diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities”.

Realizing that whatever legislation an elected assembly passed can be later repealed, Jefferson ended the statute with a statement of contempt for any legislative body that would be so presumptuous “And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with the powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable, would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right” (emphasis added).

After George Washington’s death, Christians made an intense effort to claim him as one of their own. This effort was based largely on the grounds that Washington had regularly attended services with his wife at an Episcopal Church and had served as a vestryman in the church. On August 13, 1835, a Colonel Mercer, involved in the effort, wrote to Bishop William White, who had been one of the rectors at the church Washington had attended. In the letter, Mercer asked if “Washington was a communicant of the Protestant Episcopal church, or whether he occasionally went to the communion only, or if ever he did so at all…” (John Remsberg, Six Historic Americans, p. 103). On August 15, 1835, White sent Mercer this reply

In regard to the subject of your inquiry, truth requires me to say that Gen. Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am the parochial minister. Mrs. Washington was an habitual communicant…. I have been written to by many on that point, and have been obliged to answer them as I now do you (Remsberg, p. 104).

In his Annals of the American Pulpit, The Reverend William B. Sprague, D.D., wrote a biographical sketch of the Reverend James Abercrombie, the other pastor of the congregation Washington attended. In this work, Sprague quoted Abercrombie in confirmation of what White had written to Mercer

One incident in Dr. Abercrombie’s experience as a clergyman, in connection with the Father of his Country, is especially worthy of record; and the following account of it was given by the Doctor himself, in a letter to a friend, in 1831 shortly after there had been some public allusion to it “With respect to the inquiry you make I can only state the following facts; that, as pastor of the Episcopal church, observing that, on sacramental Sundays, Gen. Washington, immediately after the desk and pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation–always leaving Mrs. Washington with the other communicants–she invariably being one–I considered it my duty in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations who uniformly turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President; and as such he received it” (From Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. 5, p. 394, quoted by Remsberg, pp. 104-105).

Abercrombie went on to explain that he had heard through a senator that Washington had discussed the reprimand with others and had told them that “as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal, arising altogether from his elevated station” (Ibid.). Abercrombie then said that Washington “never afterwards came on the morning of sacramental Sunday” (Ibid.).

Here is firsthand testimony from the rectors of the church that Washington attended with his wife, and they both claimed that he never participated in the communion service. Writing in the Episcopal Recorder, the Reverend E. D. Neill said that Washington “was not a communicant, notwithstanding all the pretty stories to the contrary, and after the close of the sermon on sacramental Sundays, [he] had fallen into the habit of retiring from the church while his wife remained and communed” (Remsberg, p. 107). In this article, Neill also made reference to Abercrombie’s reprimand of Washington from the pulpit, so those who knew Washington personally or who knew those who had known him all seem to agree that Washington was never a “communicant.” Remsberg continued at length in his chapter on Washington to quote the memoirs and letters of Washington’s associates, who all agreed that the president had never once been known to participate in the communion service, a fact that weakens the claim that he was a Christian. Would preachers today consider someone a devout Christian if he just attended services with his wife but never took the communion?

As for Washington’s membership in the vestry, for several years he did actively serve as one of the twelve vestrymen of Truro parish, Virginia, as had also his father. This, however, cannot be construed as proof that he was a Christian believer. The vestry at that time was also the county court, so in order to have certain political powers, it was necessary for one to be a vestryman. On this matter, Paul F. Boller made this observation

Actually, under the Anglican establishment in Virginia before the Revolution, the duties of a parish vestry were as much civil as religious in nature and it is not possible to deduce any exceptional religious zeal from the mere fact of membership.* Even Thomas Jefferson was a vestryman for a while. Consisting of the leading gentlemen of the parish in position and influence (many of whom, like Washington, were also at one time or other members of the County Court and of the House of Burgeses), the parish vestry, among other things, levied the parish taxes, handled poor relief, fixed land boundaries in the parish, supervised the construction, furnishing, and repairs of churches, and hired ministers and paid their salaries (George Washington & Religion, Dallas Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p. 26).

A footnote where the asterisk appears cited Meade as proof that avowed unbelievers sometimes served as vestrymen “As Bishop William Meade put it, somewhat nastily, in 1857, `Even Mr. Jefferson and [George] Wythe, who did not conceal their disbelief in Christianity, took their parts in the duties of vestrymen, the one at Williamsburg, the other at Albermarle; for they wished to be men of influence'” (William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, 2 vols., Philadelphia, 1857, I, p. 191).

Clearly, then, one cannot assume from Washington’s presence at church services and his membership in the Truro parish vestry that he was a Christian believer. Is there any other evidence to suggest that he was a Christian? The Reverend Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, preached a sermon in October 1831 in which he stated that “among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism” (Paul F. Boller, George Washington & Religion, pp. 14-15). He went on to describe Washington as a “great and good man” but “not a professor of religion.” Wilson said that he was “really a typical eighteenth century Deist, not a Christian, in his religious outlook” (Ibid.). Wilson wasn’t just speaking about matters that he had not researched, because he had carefully investigated his subject before he preached this sermon. Among others, Wilson had inquired of the Reverend Abercrombie [identified earlier as the rector of the church Washington had attended] concerning Washing ton’s religious views. Abercrombie’s response was brief and to the point “Sir, Washington was a Deist” (Remsberg, p. 110). Those, then, who were best positioned to know Washington’s private religious beliefs did not consider him a Christian, and the Reverend Abercrombie, who knew him personally and pastored the church he attended with his wife flatly said that Washington was a Deist.

The Reverend Bird Wilson, who was just a few years removed from being a contemporary of the so-called founding fathers, said further in the above-mentioned sermon that “the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson] _not a one had professed a belief in Christianity_” (Remsberg, p. 120, emphasis added).

Dr. Wilson’s sermon, which was published in the Albany Daily Advertiser the month it was delivered also made an interesting observation that flatly contradicts the frantic efforts of present-day fundamentalists to make the “founding fathers” orthodox Christians

When the war was over and the victory over our enemies won, and the blessings and happiness of liberty and peace were secured, the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary, and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and after a solemn debate he was deliberately voted out of it…. There is not only in the theory of our government no recognition of God’s laws and sovereignty, but its practical operation, its administration, has been conformable to its theory. Those who have been called to administer the government have not been men making any public profession of Christianity…. Washington was a man of valor and wisdom. He was esteemed by the whole world as a great and good man; but he was not a professing Christian (quoted by Remsberg, pp. 120-121, emphasis added).

The publication of Wilson’s sermon in the Daily Advertiser attracted the attention of Robert Owen, who then personally visited Wilson to discuss the matter of Washington’s religious views. Owen summarized the results of that visit in a letter to Amos Gilbert dated November 13, 1831

I called last evening on Dr. Wilson, as I told you I should, and I have seldom derived more pleasure from a short interview with anyone. Unless my discernment of character has been grievously at fault, I met an honest man and sincere Christian. But you shall have the particulars. A gentleman of this city accompanied me to the Doctor’s residence. We were very courteously received. I found him a tall, commanding figure, with a countenance of much benevolence, and a brow indicative of deep thought, apparently approaching fifty years of age. I opened the interview by stating that though personally a stranger to him, I had taken the liberty of calling in consequence of having perused an interesting sermon of his, which had been reported in the Daily Advertiser of this city, and regarding which, as he probably knew, a variety of opinions prevailed. In a discussion, in which I had taken a part, some of the facts as there reported had been questioned; and I wished to know from him whether the reporter had fairly given his words or not…. I then read to him from a copy of the Daily Advertiser the paragraph which regards Washington, beginning, “Washington was a man,” etc. and ending, “absented himself altogether from the church.” “I endorse,” said Dr. Wilson, with emphasis, “every word of that. Nay, I do not wish to conceal from you any part of the truth, even what I have not given to the public. Dr. Abercrombie said more than I have repeated. At the close of our conversation on the subject his emphatic expression was–for I well remember the very words–`Sir, Washington was a Deist.'”

In concluding the interview, Dr. Wilson said “I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression in which he pledges him self as a believer in Christianity. I think anyone who will candidly do as I have done, will come to the conclusion that he was a Deist and nothing more” (Remsberg, pp. 121-122, emphasis added).

In February 1800, after Washington’s death, Thomas Jefferson wrote this statement in his personal journal

Dr. Rush told me (he had it from Asa Green) that when the clergy addressed General Washington, on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice….

I know that Gouverneur Morris [principal drafter of the constitution], who claimed to be in his secrets, and believed him self to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in that system [Christianity] than he did” (quoted in Remsberg, p. 123 from Jefferson’s Works, Vol. 4, p. 572, emphasis added).

The “Asa” Green referred to by Jefferson was probably the Reverend Ashbel Green, who was chaplain to congress during Washington’s administration. If so, he was certainly in a position to know the information that “Asa” Green had passed along to Jefferson. Reverend Ashbel Green became the president of Princeton College after serving eight years as the congressional chaplain. He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a prominent figure in the colonial Presbyterian Church (Remsberg, p. 124). His testimony has to be given more weight than what modern day clerics may think about Washington’s religious beliefs.

Dr. Moncure D. Conway, who was once employed to edit a volume of Washington’s letters, wrote an article entitled “The Religion of Washington,” from which Remsberg quoted the following

In editing a volume of Washington’s private letters for the Long Island Historical Society, I have been much impressed by indications that this great historic personality represented the Liberal religious tendency of his time. That tendency was to respect religious organizations as part of the social order, which required some minister to visit the sick, bury the dead, and perform marriages. It was considered in nowise inconsistent with disbelief of the clergyman’s doctrines to contribute to his support, or even to be a vestryman in his church.

In his many letters to his adopted nephew and younger relatives, he admonishes them about their manners and morals, but in no case have I been able to discover any suggestion that they should read the Bible, keep the Sabbath, go to church, or any warning against Infidelity.

Washington had in his library the writings of Paine, Priestley, Voltaire, Frederick the Great, and other heretical works (pp. 128-129, emphasis added).

In a separate submission to the New York Times, Conway said that “Washington, like most scholarly Virginians of his time, was a Deist.... Contemporary evidence shows that in mature life Washington was a Deist, and did not commune, which is quite consistent with his being a vestryman. In England, where vestries have secular functions, it is not unusual for Unitarians to vestrymen, there being no doctrinal subscription required for that office. Washington’s letters during the Revolution occasionally indicate his recognition of the hand of Providence in notable public events, but in the thousands of his letters I have never been able to find the name of Christ or any reference to him” (quoted by Remsberg, pp. 129-130, emphasis added).

The absence of Christian references in Washington’s personal papers and conversation was noted by historian Clinton Rossiter

The last and least skeptical of these rationalists [Washington] loaded his First Inaugural Address with appeals to the “Great Author,” “Almighty Being,” “invisible hand,” and “benign parent of the human race,” but apparently could not bring himself to speak the word “God” (“The United States in 1787,” 1787 The Grand Convention, New York W, W, Norton & Co., 1987, p. 36).

These terms by which Washington referred to “God” in his inaugural address are dead giveaways that he was Deistic in his views. The uninformed see the expression “nature’s God” in documents like the Declaration of Independence and wrongly interpret it as evidence of Christian belief in those who wrote and signed it, but in reality it is a sure indication that the document was Deistic in origin. Deists preferred not to use the unqualified term “God” in their conversation and writings because of its Christian connotations. Accordingly, they substituted expressions like those that Washington used in his inaugural address or else they referred to their creator as “nature’s God,” the deity who had created the world and then left it to operate by natural law.

Moncure Conway also stated that “(t)here is no evidence to show that Washington, even in early life, was a believer in Christianity” (Ibid.). Remsberg also noted that Conway stated that Washington’s father had been a Deist and that his mother “was not excessively religious” (Ibid.).

Christians have often claimed that most non-Christians make death-bed professions of faith when they realize that they are dying. These claims almost always turn out to be unverifiable assertions, but Conway made it very clear that Washington, even on his death bed, made no profession of faith

When the end was near, Washington said to a physician present–an ancestor of the writer of these notes–“I am not afraid to go.” With his right fingers on his left wrist he counted his own pulses, which beat his funeral march to the grave. “He bore his distress,” so next day wrote one present, “with astonishing fortitude, and conscious, as he declared, several hours before his death, of his approaching dissolution, he resigned his breath with the greatest composure, having the full possession of his reason to the last moment.” Mrs. Washington knelt beside his bed, but no word passed on religious matters. With the sublime taciturnity which had marked his life he passed out of existence, leaving no act or word which can be turned to the service of superstition, cant, or bigotry” (quoted by Remsberg, pp. 132-133, emphasis added).

Some Christians were of course involved in the shaping of our nation, but their influence was minor compared to the ideological contributions of the Deists who pressed for the formation of a secular nation. In describing the composition of the delegations to the constitutional convention, the historian Clinton Rossiter said this about their religious views

Whatever else it might turn out to be, the Convention would not be a `Barebone’s Parliament.’ Although it had its share of strenuous Christians like Strong and Bassett, ex-preachers like Baldwin and Williamson, and theologians like Johnson and Ellsworth, the gathering at Philadelphia was largely made up of men in whom the old fires were under control or had even flickered out. Most were nominally members of one of the traditional churches in their part of the country–the New Englanders Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, the Southerners Episcopalians, and the men of the Middle States everything from backsliding Quakers to stubborn Catholics–and most were men who could take their religion or leave it along. Although no one in this sober gathering would have dreamed of invoking the Goddess of Reason, neither would anyone have dared to proclaim that his opinions had the support of the God of Abraham and Paul. The Convention of 1787 was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit” (“The Men of Philadelphia,” 1787 The Grand Convention, New York W. W. Norton & Company, 1987, pp. 147-148, emphasis added).

Needless to say, this view of the religious beliefs of the constitutional delegates differs radically from the picture that is often painted by modern fundamentalist leaders.

At the constitutional convention, Luther Martin a Maryland representative urged the inclusion of some kind of recognition of Christianity in the constitution on the grounds that “it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.” How ever, the delegates to the convention rejected this proposal and, as the Reverend Bird Wilson stated in his sermon quoted above, drafted the constitution as a secular document. God was nowhere mentioned in it.

As a matter of fact, the document that was finally approved at the constitutional convention mentioned religion only once, and that was in Article VI, Section 3, which stated that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Now if the delegates at the convention had truly intended to establish a “Christian nation,” why would they have put a statement like this in the constitution and nowhere else even refer to religion? Common sense is enough to convince any reasonable person that if the intention of these men had really been the formation of a “Christian nation,” the constitution they wrote would have surely made several references to God, the Bible, Jesus, and other accouterments of the Christian religion, and rather than expressly forbidding ANY religious test as a condition for holding public office in the new nation, it would have stipulated that allegiance to Christianity was a requirement for public office. After all, when someone today finds a tract left at the front door of his house or on the windshield of his car, he doesn’t have to read very far to determine that its obvious intention is to further the Christian religion. Are we to assume, then, that the founding fathers wanted to establish a Christian nation but were so stupid that they couldn’t write a constitution that would make their purpose clear to those who read it?

Clearly, the founders of our nation intended government to maintain a neutral posture in matters of religion. Anyone who would still insist that the intention of the founding fathers was to establish a Christian nation should review a document written during the administration of George Washington. Article 11 of the Treaty with Tripoli declared in part that “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion...” (Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States, ed. Hunter Miller, Vol. 2, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1931, p. 365). This treaty was negotiated by the American diplomat Joel Barlow during the administration of George Washington. Washington read it and approved it, although it was not ratified by the senate until John Adams had become president. When Adams signed it, he added this statement to his signature “Now, be it known, that I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said treaty, do, by and within the consent of the Senate, accept, ratify and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof.” This document and the approval that it received from our nation’s first and second presidents and the U. S. Senate as constituted in 1797 do very little to support the popular notion that the founding fathers established our country as a “Christian nation.”

Confronted with evidence like the foregoing, diehard fundamentalists will argue that even if the so-called founding fathers did not purposefully establish a Christian nation our country was founded by people looking for religious liberty, and our population has always been overwhelmingly Christian, but even these points are more dubious than most Christian-nation advocates dare suspect. Admittedly, some colonists did come to America in search of religious freedom, but the majority were driven by monetary motives. They simply wanted to improve their economic status. In New England, where the quest for religious freedom had been a strong motive for leaving the Old World, the colonists quickly established governments that were just as intolerant, if not more so, of religious dissent than what they had fled from in Europe. Quakers were exiled and then executed if they returned, and “witches,” condemned on flimsy spectral evidence, were hanged. This is hardly a part of our past that modern fundamentalists can point to as a model to be emulated, although their rhetoric often gives cause to wonder if this isn’t exactly what they want today.

As for the religious beliefs of the general population in pre and post revolutionary times, it wasn’t nearly as Christian as most people think. Lynn R. Buzzard, executive director of the Christian Legal Society (a national organization of Christian lawyers) has admitted that there is little proof to support the claim that the colonial population was overwhelmingly Christian. “Not only were a good many of the revolutionary leaders more deist than Christian,” Buzzard wrote, “but the actual number of church members was rather small. Perhaps as few as five percent of the populace were church members in 1776″ (Schools They Haven’t Got a Prayer, Elgin, Illinois David C. Cook Publishing, 1982, p. 81). Historian Richard Hofstadter says that “perhaps as many as ninety percent of the Americans were unchurched in 1790” (Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, New York Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, p. 82) and goes on to say that “mid-eighteenth century America had a smaller proportion of church members than any other nation in Christendom,” noting that “in 1800 [only] about one of every fifteen Americans was a church member” (p. 89). Historian James MacGregor Burns agrees with these figures, noting that “(t)here had been a `very wintry season’ for religion every where in America after the Revolution” (The American Experiment Vineyard of Liberty, New York Vintage Books, 1983, p. 493). He adds that “ninety percent of the people lay outside the churches.”

Historians, who deal with facts rather than wishes, paint an entirely different picture of the religious composition of America during its formative years than the image of a nation founded on “biblical principles” that modern Bible fundamentalists are trying to foist upon us. Our founding fathers established a religiously neutral nation, and a tragedy of our time is that so many people are striving to undo all that was accomplished by the wisdom of the founding fathers who framed for us a constitution that would protect the religious freedom of everyone regardless of personal creed. An even greater tragedy is that they many times hoodwink the public into believing that they are only trying to make our nation what the founding fathers would want it to be. Separation of church and state is what the founding fathers wanted for the nation, and we must never allow anyone to distort history to make it appear otherwise.”
Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/farrell_till/myth.html

New Low for Right-Wing Anti-Choicers — Exploiting the Holocaust to Push Anti-Abortion Propaganda

From AlterNet, by

Irin Carmon

N.B.: This is WHY separation of church & state is more important than ever!

Saying it’s OK to choose is the same thing as saying it’s OK for Hitler to choose,” says a fresh-faced young man. He’s talking about choosing an abortion in “180,” a 33-minute movie comparing legalized abortion to the Holocaust that has so far gotten over 1.5 million hits on YouTube, thanks in part to heavy distribution by fertilized-eggs-as-people promulgators Personhood USA.

That’s precisely the conclusion Ray Comfort, a mustachioed evangelical pastor and sometime Kirk Cameron collaborator, wants from his eight young interview subjects. And with the help of footage of murdered Jews and fully developed fetuses, it’s what he wants his viewers to conclude, as well. The New Zealand-born Comfort, who says his mother is Jewish, is by no means alone in making the equivalence: Mike Huckabee, who supported Personhood USA’s failed efforts in Mississippi, has often compared the Holocaust and abortion, saying of Nazi extermination, “educated scientists, sophisticated and cultured people looked the other way because they thought it didn’t touch them.” The day before Phil Bryant was elected governor of Mississippi — at the same time the state’s voters rejected the Personhood amendment — he evoked the Jews of Nazi Germany “being marched into the oven,” because of “the people who were in charge of the government at that time” as an argument to vote for it.

But Anti-Defamation League director and Holocaust survivor Abraham Foxman has called Comfort’s film “quite frankly, one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years.” His statement didn’t take an explicit stand on abortion or elaborate on what made the film so unacceptable, but he did say that in addition to making a “moral equivalency between the Holocaust and abortion,” the movie “also brings Jews and Jewish history into the discussion and then calls on its viewers to repent and accept Jesus as their savior.”

Obviously, for anyone who supports reproductive rights for women, the comparison is wildly offensive beyond any specter of attempted conversion or co-opting of Jewish tragedy. It requires an unquestioning equivalence between living people systematically murdered for their ethnic, religious or sexual identity and an embryo or fetus dependent on a woman’s body for survival. It also raises the question of who the alleged exterminators are. Those making the comparison would like people to cast the government or politicians in that role — but only because it sounds bad to point out who’s really making the choice, a woman. And for pro-choicers, reproductive rights are a part of a larger idea of bodily autonomy, which happens to be one of the many things denied to Nazi targets, some of whom were subjected to forced sterilization and abortions or horrific medical experiments.

Comfort starts his film by urgently asking bewildered-looking kids in Southern California if they know who Hitler is (“this guy … he had a mustache”). He inexplicably interviews an unrepentant neo-Nazi, then starts showing video footage of murdered Jews in extermination camps alongside pictures of fully developed fetuses. Having declared that Hitler hated Christianity, he asks his interviewees whether they would drive a bulldozer across the bodies of Jews, and then whether they would murder Hitler or even his pregnant mother if they had the chance. If this sounds like a suggestion that the murder of abortion providers is justifiable, the credits at the end helpfully say they don’t condone violence. In that case!

By the end, Comfort is forcefully telling the teens and 20-somethings that they’re blasphemous fornicators, adulterous in their hearts, headed for hell. (He runs into a snag when he demands to know whether one girl has lusted in her heart for a man. “Nope, I’m gay,” she says cheerfully.) Interestingly for a film that anti-choicers have declared stunningly persuasive, most of them don’t seem to care about where he says they’re going.

“180″ and its accompanying book may be the most brazen attempt to co-opt the Holocaust for other ends, but it’s hardly the first. Even before the Internet codified Godwin’s Law – the longer a discussion gets, the more likely someone will be compared to Hitler — Nazi Germany has been a favored comparison of just about anyone on the hunt for an undisputed evil. Nor is it just a tactic of the right, though recently it’s seemed happiest to use it as a cudgel against enemies, down to private equity king Steven Schwarzman comparing Obama’s position on taxes to Hitler invading Poland.

Even Betty Friedan did it: She notoriously wrote in “The Feminist Mystique” that  ”the women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps.” But Kirsten Fermaglich, author of “American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares: Early Holocaust Consciousness and Liberal America, 1957-1965,” told me that though Friedan later repudiated the comparison, in 1963, when Friedan published her book, the Holocaust was “not a sacred cow. Nobody complained about it. Certainly no one complained about it the way you’d think they would.”

Of course, at that point, the Holocaust wasn’t even known as the Holocaust. Scholars differ on how and when it shifted as a matter of public consciousness, but Fermaglich suggested it was linked to the growth of identity politics and pride in ethnic heritage in the 1970s — as well as growing Holocaust denial.

“It’s very hard to separate out one’s personal politics from one’s reaction to the use of the Holocaust,” conceded Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish History at NYU and director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History. “When it’s being used for something that I agree with, and I respect the speaker, it doesn’t bother me. On the other hand when it’s being invoked for political purposes that I find nefarious and I’m disgusted by the speaker then it seems wrong.” A comparison she found appropriate, for example, was the 1951 petition signed by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois and others charging the United States with genocide, citing lynchings and wrongful executions. “I don’t think Jews have a monopoly on the word,” she said.

But as for the anti-abortion activists using the Holocaust, Diner said bluntly, “I have nothing but disgust and contempt for them. Not because they use that word. I think everything about them is horrible.” ”

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/153115/new_low_for_right-wing_anti-choicers_–_exploiting_the_holocaust_to_push_anti-abortion_propaganda?page=entire

Bishops Are Behind the ‘Let Women Die’ Act and the Push Against Birth Control–Even As They’re Under Fire for Sex Abuse Scandals

From Alternet, by Sarah Seltzer

Yet Another Example of Why Separation of religion and politics is a must!

“Last week, the House’s passage of the now-notorious H.R. 358 — also known as the “Let Women Die” bill — caused deserved outrage. But the bill’s connection to the high-ranking Catholic group that fought for its passage, even while the American church is fighting a horrific new sex abuse scandal, hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.

The new bill (which the president has vowed to veto) would essentially obliterate abortion coverage by both public and private insurers, and most egregiously get hospitals off the hook for refusing to perform abortions for women whose lives are in immediate danger. It would literally allow hospitals to let women die with impunity.

H.R. 358’s easy passage by a majority in Congress (with some defecting Democrats in the ranks) delivered another shock of sexism in a political landscape that has been assaulted by one anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-women’s health measure after another, all firing in a succession of rapid shots from statehouses across the nation as well as from DC. Helping to man the artillery is a largely disgraced Catholic hierarchy.

This momentum for misogyny has been painted as having mostly arisen from the Tea Party and the extremist evangelical megachurch Pat Robertson types. But these anti-choice forces are not alone, and they are not solely responsible: rather the (all-male, it should go without saying) Council of Catholic Bishops has aggressively, relentlessly, and successfully lobbied for many of the worst of the measures in the “War on Women.”

During the health care debates of 2009, this group was instrumental in pushing for anti-abortion language. At the time, NPR reported that Democrats found them to be “a lobbying force of unexpected influence” that had decided after budget cuts to focus their “strongest efforts” almost entirely on abortion issues rather than waste time on say, helping the poor.

Specifically, their aims have included the one-two punch of pushing for the “let women die” clauses and anti-abortion measures of H.R. 358, as well as the alarming new fight against coverage for contraception, which would deprive the overwhelming majority of the Catholic public that uses birth control with coverage for birth control.

The council has done this without being questioned by the mainstream media even in the long shadow of scandal, even though much of the American Catholic hierarchy’s capacity to treat issues of sex appropriately has been thrown into serious question by the seemingly never-ending child sex-abuse travesty.

Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check (who has been on this story for years) points out the obvious connection that many are missing. The very same week a bishop was indicted for failing to report sexual abuse in his diocese in Kansas City was the week that H.R. 358 came through Congress with heavyhanded lobbying by that very bishop’s colleagues.

Taking lewd photographs of young girls and covering it up. Raping young boys and girls and covering it up. Getting women pregnant and covering it up.There is a sustained pattern of institutionalized corruption and immorality by any measure and these men are allowed to declare themselves the moral arbiters of the most private decisions made by women and their families?

Here is the dramatic opening of the news story about the indictments in the Kansas City Diocese from the New York Times:

A bishop in the Roman Catholic Church has been indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse, the first time in the 25-year history of the church’s sex abuse scandals that the leader of an American diocese has been held criminally liable for the behavior of a priest he supervised.The indictment of the bishop, Robert W. Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a county grand jury was announced on Friday. Each was charged with one misdemeanor count involving a priest accused of taking pornographic photographs of girls as recently as this year.

Earlier in the autumn, a similar court case occurred in Philadelphia. (A monsignor, not a bishop, was the highest-ranking official there to be charged.) The major revelation during these proceedings was a secret file of sexual abuse the church kept from the public; a quietly institutionalized method of covering up crimes instead of protecting the most vulnerable.

So yes, bit by bit, there are beginning to be legal ramifications beyond shame for these coverups. But why doesn’t the stigma extend to the bishops’ lobbying efforts?

Jodi Jacobson is right. It’s been years since the systematic coverup of these kinds of cases (and far worse ones) in the Church was exposed, and yet this story shows the pattern persists. Nonetheless, instead of focusing on reform from within, Robert Finn‘s fellow bishops seem intent on womb-policing and urging elected officials to carry on a policy of disregarding women’s lives.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, wrote about why American Catholics are for the large part at odds with their clergy:

The Catholic bishops’ actions show an unhealthy obsession with sexual issues. They appear to be hell-bent on wasting real and political capital on dictating to all Americans what their sexual choices should be. In their campaign to impose their will on others, they are willing to stoop to new lows.

The arguments that the USCCB has made are not scientifically, medically or legally sound. The bishops, having failed to convince the majority of Catholics on issues related to reproductive health and sexuality, are attempting to use Congress to impose their personal beliefs on all Americans. The bishops should stop forcing their personal beliefs on others and allow women and their doctors to make healthcare decisions. It’s time for us to respect the consciences of all and support people’s right to make their own decisions about their lives and health.

If you think these kinds of laws being passed are symbolic posturing, think again. They have real-life effects. Consider the case last year of the Arizona nun who was excommunicated from the church after approving one of the life-saving abortions being targeted by H.R. 358.

Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”

The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. But there was a complication: She was at a Catholic hospital.

The hospital officials knew that church doctrine would have them let both mother and child die. But they searched for an exception and thought they found one: “Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at the hospital as well as its liaison to the diocese, gave her approval” for a lifesaving abortion. The woman survived, but the nun was excommunicated.

A nun who saved a woman’s life was excommunicated. Many of the priests implicated in sex abuse scandals — priests accused of child rape — have not been excommunicated. The church devoted time and money to the nun’s case, while sparing the priests.

And the governing bodies in charge of these decisions are walking the halls of Congress, pushing for policies that “protect life” by ruining the lives of women and children.”

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her atsarahmseltzer.com.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/152765/bishops_are_behind_the_%27let_women_die%27_act_and_the_push_against_birth_control–even_as_they%27re_under_fire_for_sex_abuse_scandals?page=entire

How Christian Fundamentalism Helped Empower the Top 1% to Exploit the 99%

From AlterNet, by Frank Schaeffer

N.B.: Separation of Church and State!

“As the Occupy Wall street movement spreads across the country and the world, we must bring attention to the enablers of the top 1 percent exploiting the 99. Fundamentalist religion made this exploitation possible.

Evangelical fundamentalism helped empower the top 1 percent. Note I didn’t say religion per se, but religious fundamentalism.
Why? Because without the fundamentalists and their “values” issues, many in the lower 99 percent could not have been convinced to vote against their (our) economic self-interest; in other words, vote for Republicans who only serve billionaires.
Wall Street is a great target for long-overdue protest, but so are the centers of religious power that are the gatekeepers of Republican Party “values” voters that make the continuing economic exploitation possible.
Fundamentalist religion –– evangelical and Roman Catholic alike — has delegitimized the US government and thus undercut its ability to tax, spend and regulate.

The fundamentalists have replaced economic and political justice with a bogus (and hate-driven) “morality” litmus tests of spurious red herring “issues” from abortion to school prayer and gay rights. The result has been that the masses of lower middle-class and poor Americans who should be voting for Democrats and thus their own economic interests, have been persuaded to vote against their own class and self interest.
This trick of political sleight of hand has been achieved by this process:
  • Declare the US government agents of evil because “the government” has allowed legal abortion, gay rights, etc.
  • Declare that therefore “government is the problem,” not the solution.
  • The government is the source of all evil www.amazon.com/Sex-Mom-God-Strange-Politics/dp/0306819287/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0, thus anyone the government wants to regulate is being picked on by satanic forces. The US government is always the bad guy.
  • Good, God-fearing folks will always vote for less government and less regulation because “the government” is evil.
  • So unregulated corporations, banks and Wall Street are always right and represent “freedom” while government is always wrong and represents “tyranny.”
Like most evangelical/Roman Catholic fundamentalist movements in history, from the Bay State colonies to the Spanish Inquisition, the American Religious Right of today advocates the fusion of state power and religion through the reestablishment of the “Christian America” idea of “American Exceptionalism” (i.e., a nation “chosen” by God), the form of government adopted by the Puritans’ successors during the age of early American colonialism.
Thus the division between “real Americans” and the rest of us is the “saved” and “lost” paradigm of theological correctness applied to politics. Thus President Obama isn’t a real American, or even a born American, he’s “Other,” a Muslim, an outsider, and above all not “one of us.”
In other words you’re not just wrong, but evil if you disagree with the Elect over abortion, or for that matter peace in the Middle East because you’re “not supporting Israel.”
“Bring America back to the Bible” is really no more subtle than the claim of the Iranian Mullahs to rule in “God’s name” so that Iran too can come back to God. And if you can get Americans to worry about the Bible and not fairness and justice, then you have handed a perpetual victory to Goldman Sachs and company.
How Did We Get Here?

The unstated agreement went like this: Republicans will pander to the Religious Right on the social issues — abortion, gay rights, prayer in schools, creationism in textbooks, and not so subtly the endorsement of religious schools to help white evangelicals and Roman Catholics avoid integration — as long as the Religious Right turned a blind eye to the fact that the Republican Party would sell the soul of the country to corporate America, a country-within-a-country where 1 percent of the population have more wealth than the 99 percent.
Deference to religion masquerading as politics must end, now.
 
Religion masquerading as politics is not true religion or politics– it is a theocracy-in-waiting. This charade of power grabs in God’s name needs to be exposed, and destroyed.
Democracy will not survive the continuing dirty combination of theocracy and oligarchy. That’s where we’re headed: bankers running the world backed by preachers who don’t care about God but care about power.
The timely destruction of the economic elites and their religious facilitators begins by calling fundamentalist/evangelical/Roman Catholic “religion” what it is: a political grab for power based on literal madness of the sort that makes many terrified of modernity, truth, science and facts and leads them to deny evolution and global warming while believing that Jesus will come back any day now.
To the post-Roe Religious Right, hating America became the new patriotism. If it had not been for the evangelicals demonizing the federal government over abortion and gay rights (as they did before over civil rights) how else would the economic oligarchy have gotten away with making the underclass vote against their own interests?
‘I’m Pro-Life and I Vote’ Bumpersticker Says It All

The evangelical Right helped stall the Obama presidency. And they are only getting going, as their 87 Tea Party congressional freshmen proved by being willing to plunge the US economy over a cliff in order to satisfy their hunger to clip the wings of the “evil” US government and render it useless.
When my late evangelical father and I were running around back in the 1970s and ’80s signing up Republican leaders like Ronald Reagan to “take a stand on abortion” we were outsiders and agitators. Today, the agitators are now actually running the heart of the Republican Party. Some of the most extreme of their number — Perry and Bachmann — are actually running for president.

That’s why no one was surprised that Rick Perry kicked off his presidential race with a prayer meeting surrounded by extremist bigots from the far, far evangelical right.
Protest Churches and Religious Organizations, Along With Wall Street
Fundamentalist religion of all kinds is the enemy of democracy and thus of America. It is also the enemy of working people everywhere, when its bogus moral crusades empower the rich to thumb their noses at our government.
Fundamentalist religion here and around the world must be stopped in its anti-fact, anti-progress crusade. The alternative is chaos, decline, oligarchy and theocracy.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/152724/how_christian_fundamentalism_helped_empower_the_top_1_to_exploit_the_99?akid=7719.123424._z7XFi&rd=1&t=5

Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” — Here’s What That Would Actually Look Like

From AlterNet, by Adam Lee

In a campaign speech in September, Rick Perry hit upon some familiar Republican themes. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, in an appeal to evangelical voters, said “Christian values” and not “a bunch of Washington politicians” should be the touchstone guiding how Americans conduct their lives. …

“America is going to be guided by some set of values,” Perry told a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members yesterday at a sports arena on the school’s campus. “The question is going to be, ‘Whose values?'” He said it should be “those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

It’s worth calling attention to Perry’s obnoxious rhetorical ploy of using “Christian values” to refer only to his own very specific, right-wing set of beliefs — preemptive war, gay-bashing, tax cuts for the rich, creationism in schools, deregulating corporations, dismantling the social safety net, the standard Republican package –– as if he owned or had the right to define all of Christianity. In reality, there’s such a huge diversity of opinion among self-professed Christians past and present that the term “Christian values” could mean almost anything.

Christians have been communists and socialists (including Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance); Christians have supported empire and dictatorship (including Mussolini, who made Catholicism the official state religion of fascist Italy). Christians have advocated positions across the political spectrum, from environmental preservation to environmental destruction, from pacifism to just war to open advocacy of genocide, from civil rights tosegregation and slavery.

This broad range of opinion comes about because the Bible never mentions many of these issues, and addresses others in only vague or contradictory passages scattered throughout its individual books. This gives individual Christians wide latitude to find support in the text for virtually any political position you’d care to name.

However, there’s one area where there’s much less room for debate, and that’s the question of political organization. The Bible sets out a very clear picture of what its authors believed the ideal state would look like. Coincidentally, this is the same subject Rick Perry was speaking to: “those Christian values that this country was based upon.” We can compare this statement to the dictates of the Bible to see what it would mean to have a government based on “Christian values.” Then we’ll be in a better position to decide whether America has such a government.

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, after escaping Egypt and reaching the promised land, the twelve tribes of Israel were united into a single country under David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, there was a rebellion, and the country split into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah, which lasted until the Assyrian empire destroyed Israel and carried its people off into exile. Both these kingdoms survived for several hundred years, and therefore there’s more than enough written history to tell what the Bible’s authors thought of as a good state or a bad state.

But right away, there’s a problem. The Bible never even mentions democracy — that concept was completely unknown to its authors. The system of government it enshrines is divine-right monarchy — and not just monarchy, but kingship. Under normal circumstances, the Bible is very clear that the throne passes only from father to son. (The sole exception was Athaliah, a queen of Judah who came to power in a bloody coup and whose reign lasted only six years.)

Even more to the point, the Bible’s ideal government is unequivocally a theocracy: a country where the church and the state are one, where there’s an official religion which all citizens are required to profess, and where law is made by the priests. There was no religious freedom in the ancient Israelite kingdoms: all people were required to worship the same god in the same officially approved ways, on pain of death. For instance, when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, his immediate response is to order the butchering of everyone who participated in idolatry (Exodus 32:27). Many of Israel’s subsequent kings do likewise. The Bible goes so far as to say that, if pagan worshippers are discovered in any city, the entire city should be burned down and everyone who lives there should be killed (Deuteronomy 13:12-16).

The Bible also puts a high value on racial purity. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, and were instructed to keep themselves separate. Time and again, they were sternly warned against marrying people of another race, tribe or ethnicity. For instance, the Old Testament pronounces a perpetual curse on the neighboring Ammonite and Moabite tribes, saying that any person descended from either one, even down to the tenth generation, “shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). In one of the Old Testament’s most gruesome stories, a priest named Phinehas finds an Israelite man having sex with a Midianite woman, and impales them both on the same spear (Numbers 25:6-8). For doing this, he’s praised as a hero of faith, and God rewards him with “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” When the Israelites invade and conquer neighboring lands, God instructs them to massacre all the captives, including women, so that they’re not tempted to intermarry with them (Deuteronomy 7:2).

By the time of the New Testament, much of this had changed. Christians weren’t all of one ethnicity, nor did they have their own country. They were scattered throughout the powerful, militaristic Roman Empire, governed by absolute rulers who were brutally intolerant of dissent. In light of this, it’s little surprise that the New Testament teaches the virtue of submission to the authorities. It states unequivocally that earthly rulers, even when they act unjustly, are ordained to their position by God and that Christian believers should obey them without question — in fact, it states that those who resist are in peril of eternal damnation (Romans 13:1-2).

All these ideas, so clearly advocated in the Bible, are utterly contrary to what this nation stands for. The idea of divine-right kingship is what our founders successfully rebelled against in bringing forth this country. America is a democracy where the people choose their leaders, a constitutional republic where the powers of those leaders are strictly defined and limited by law. America is a multicultural, multiethnic nation founded on the idea of welcoming immigrants, the homeless and tempest-tossed of every land. Submission to the established authorities, of course, isn’t an American value: Americans have a long and colorful history of debate, protest, and civil disobedience, and the right to criticize our leaders is sanctified in the Constitution. And most of all, America is a secular nation with a separation of church and state. We have no official faith, no national church as many European countries still do.

But America’s Constitution is more than just a secular document; it’s literally godless. It doesn’t claim that the ideas it contains were the product of divine revelation. It states that governing power comes from the will of the people, not the commands of a deity. It doesn’t assert that God has specially blessed this nation or shown it special favor — in fact, it never mentions God at all. And it mentions religion in only two places, both of them negative mentions: in Article VI, which forbids any religious test for public office, and in the First Amendment, which forbids Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion.

If America’s founders had meant to establish a Christian nation, this is where they would have said so. But they said no such thing. And this leads into a historical fact that the religious right would dearly love to forget: the godlessness of the Constitution was a point of major controversy in the debate over ratification. When it was drafted, the fact that it made no explicit mention of God or Christianity wasn’t a minor oversight. It was a major, deliberate omission that was obvious to all. Religious language was omnipresent in other legal documents and charters of the day, including the ones that inspired the Constitution in the first place.

For example, the Constitution’s precursor, the Articles of Confederation,explicitly gives God the credit for making the state legislatures agree to it: “…it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union.”

Going back further, the 1620 Mayflower Compact, made by the Pilgrims just before their landing, begins, “In the name of God, amen” and describes the purpose of their voyage as “for the glory of God and advancements of the Christian faith.”

Another foundational legal document, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, was based on the political thinking of John Locke and may have been part of the inspiration for our own Bill of Rights. This document calls the U.K. “this Protestant kingdom,” states that “it hath pleased Almighty God to make [King William III] the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery” and declares that no Catholic will ever be allowed to hold the throne of the U.K.

And lastly, there’s the document at the root of the Western legal system, theMagna Carta. Like the others, it’s woven throughout with religious language: its preamble begins “Know that before God…” and states that it was created “to the honor of God” and “the exaltation of the holy church.”

In the light of these documents, it’s easy to see just how unique, unusual, even unprecedented the Constitution is. The United States of America was the first modern republic that was created on the foundation of reason, without seeking blessings from a god, without imploring divine assistance or invoking divine favor. And, as I said, this fact was not overlooked when the Constitution was being debated. Very much to the contrary, the religious right of the founding generation angrily attacked it, warning that ratifying this godless document as-is would spell doom for the nation.

For instance, at the Constitutional Convention, the delegate William Williams proposed that the Constitution’s preamble be modified to read: “We the people of the United States in a firm belief of the being and perfection of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governor of the World, in His universal providence and the authority of His laws… do ordain, etc”. A failed Virginia initiative attempted to change the wording of Article VI to say that “no otherreligious test shall ever be required than a belief in the one only true God, who is the rewarder of the good, and the punisher of the evil”. The Maryland delegate Luther Martin observed “there were some members so unfashionable as to think that… it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.”

However, the Constitution’s defenders held firm, and all the attempts to Christianize it failed. And the religious right of the day bitterly lamented that failure. One anonymous anti-federalist wrote in a Boston newspaper that America was inviting the curse of 1 Samuel 15:23 – “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee.” In 1789, a group of Presbyterian elders wrote to George Washington to complain that the Constitution contained no reference to “the only true God and Jesus Christ, who he hath sent.” In 1811, Rev. Samuel Austin claimed that the Constitution’s “one capital defect” was that it was “entirely disconnected from Christianity.” In 1812, Rev. Timothy Dwight, grandson of the infamous preacher Jonathan Edwards, lamented that America had “offended Providence” by forming a Constitution “without any acknowledgement of God; without any recognition of His mercies to us, as a people, of His government, or even of His existence.”

What the religious right failed to achieve at the Constitutional Convention, they kept trying to do in the following decades. The National Reform Association, founded in 1863 by a group of clergy, proposed a constitutional amendment which would have changed the preamble to read, “We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, they repeatedly brought this proposal before presidents and congresses, getting turned down each time. As recently as 1954, the National Association of Evangelicals was still trying to amend the Constitution with language such as, “This nation divinely recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.”

Only within the last 50 or 60 years, now that they’ve finally accepted they have no realistic hope of changing it, has the religious right flip-flopped and started claiming that the Constitution meant to establish a Christian nation all along. This staggeringly dishonest, wholesale rewriting of history has become their stock in trade, to the point of having full-time propagandists who obscure historical fact and promote the Christian-nation myth. These falsehoods filter into the political mainstream, until we have absurdities like Rick Perry claiming that the United States, a secular and democratic republic, was based on the legal code of an ancient theocratic monarchy. We, as liberals and progressives, should know better than to accept this falsehood. We have every reason to speak out and uphold America’s proud history as a secular republic founded on reason and governed by the democratic will.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/belief/152564/conservatives_want_america_to_be_a_%22christian_nation%22_–_here%27s_what_that_would_actually_look_like/?page=entire

Rising atheism in America puts ‘religious right on the defensive’

From The Guardian:

“About 400 people are preparing to gather for a conference in Hartford, Connecticut, to promote the end of religion in the US and their vision of a secular future for the country.

Those travelling to the meeting will pass two huge roadside billboards displaying quotes from two of the country’s most famous non-believers: Katharine Hepburn and Mark Twain. “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” reads the one featuring Twain. “I’m an atheist and that’s it,” says the one quoting Hepburn.

At the meeting, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) will hear speakers celebrate successes they have had in removing religion from US public life and see awards being presented to noted secularist activists.

The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.

The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.

Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.

Professor Barry Kosmin of Trinity College, who conducts the national Religious Identification Survey, believes up to a quarter of young people in the US now have no specific faith, and scoffs at the idea, prevalent in so much US media and culture, that the country is highly religious or becoming more so. “The trending in American history is towards secularisation,” Kosmin said.

He cites the example of the changing face of Sunday in the country. It was not too long ago when many sporting events were banned on Sundays and most shops were closed too. Now the opposite is largely true.

As in Britain, Sunday in the US has become a normal shopping day for many, or a day to watch big football or baseball games. “The great secular holiday in America is Super Bowl Sunday. Even in the deep south, the biggest mega-church changes its schedule to suit the Super Bowl,” Kosmin said.

He also pointed to social trends – greater divorce rates, gay marriage and much higher percentages of people having children out of wedlock – as other signs that the religious grip on society has loosened.

There are other indications, too. For a long time studies have shown that about 40% of US adults attend a church service weekly. However, other studies that actually counted those at church – rather than just asking people if they went – have shown the true number to be about half to two-thirds of that figure.

More Americans are now choosing to get married or be buried without any form of religious ceremony. At universities, departments devoted to the study of secularism are starting to appear. Books by atheist authors are bestsellers. National groups, such as the Secular Coalition of America (SCA), have opened branches across the country.

Herb Silverman, president of the Washington-based SCA, lives in Charleston, South Carolina. His local secularist group was founded in 1994 with 10 people, but now has 150 members. “I’ve been living here in the buckle of the Bible belt since 1976 and things are getting a lot better,” Silverman said.

Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.

Kosmin said the attention paid by politicians and the media to religious groups was not necessarily a sign of strength. “When religion was doing well, it did not need to go into politics. Secularity of our population and culture is obviously growing and so religion is on the defensive,” he said.

However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

“Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God. But we don’t ‘out’ people,” said Silverman.

Others think that one day it will become politically mainstream to confess to a lack of faith as US political life lags behind the society that it represents. “Politicians have not yet caught up with the changing demographics of our society,” said Gaylor.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/world/2011/oct/01/atheism-america-religious-right?code=AQCa9wGKaLlj9iwfs47xnILYcVcRU1EYnuxSSnn-hHq0Ah4nD18Hmcv74SHnlPIjbQApATndf5SMZcwnLOixElyL1y7s8ZTTIizVbHG_uDluuyZgDatTQXivPF4pspftmWPDTO8zOM1sQw7IjtsxeRVvQA7i07_kHnjfs0Yv9B_FA9zrR9XYpq8oT2scBSTrvUM#_=_

Why Are Religious Conservatives So Scared of Gay Sex?

From AlterNet, by Amanda Marcotte

N.B.: Yet Another Example that Separation of church and State is more important than ever. 

 

“The past year has been a remarkable one for moving the ball forward for gay rights: the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the addition of New York to the list of states where gays can marry legally, and the Obama administration first declining to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, and then going on the record opposing it as unconstitutional.

Subsequently, those on the right who are still willing to strongly oppose gay rights are becoming more shrill in their opposition. The National Organization for Marriage, which already had a gold medal in the “bigotry Olympics,” felt the need to respond to these changes by appointing a new leader who had criticized the supporters of Prop. 8 in California for not being bigoted enough, saying that any rights given to gays in relationships was too marriage-like for his tastes.

What gives with all the hatred for gay people coming from conservatives, even as the rest of country is beginning to get over long-held prejudices? Part of it is just straight-up protectiveness of heterosexual privilege. Part of being conservative is relishing things (like rights) other people don’t have, and so of course they object to letting gay people have the things that straight people have always had. But quite a bit of what’s going on is that anti-gay bigotry is just one piece of a larger picture of conservative fear and loathing of all forms of sexuality.

In socially conservative circles, sex is seen as illicit behavior at best, and criminally perverse at worst. The liberal model that imagines sex as a fun, life-affirming way to spend your time simply doesn’t compute. When you think of sex in terms of subversion and criminality, gay sex looms large in your imagination as the filthiest, most sexy-sex there is. Social conservatives simply can’t get past the images in their minds of dudes sticking it to one another, and it completely skews their ability to think logically and fairly about extending basic human rights to gay people.

While right-wing pundits speaking to a national audience have learned to temper their remarks about homosexuality and try to steer the conversation away from opportunities to say ignorant things about gay people’s sex lives, the religious leaders and more underground right-wing media is still singing the same song. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recently went on the record saying that gay rights will bring in “an outright sexual paganization of society.” Anti-gay activist Scott Lively was on WorldNetDaily again recently suggesting that being gay is a matter of having a philosophy of “sexual anarchy,” as opposed to it simply being a sexual orientation. It’s common for conservatives to suggest that accepting homosexuality means accepting pedophilia, because they see both as outrageous perversions instead of making the distinction between non-consensual and consensual behavior.

The ex-gay movement is further evidence of the religious right’s obsession with gay sex that stems from a larger obsession with sex. The very premise of “ex-gay” therapy is that all it takes to stop being gay is to stop having gay sex. Many “ex-gay” people describe themselves as continuing to lust after members of their own sex, but identify as not-gay because they don’t do anything about it. This reduces being gay to a behavior, when of course most people understand gay as an identity. Just as you don’t stop being straight when you find yourself going through a dry spell, you don’t stop being gay because you’re not having gay sex. But the religious right is so obsessed by sex that they simply can’t get past it to look at people as whole human beings.

The religious right looks at sex the way most of us look at drugs. In their eyes, straight, married sex is an indulgence like a glass of wine at dinner–oh, you know you probably shouldn’t, but they shrug it off, especially if they view you as a wealthy, privileged sort who can “handle” the responsibility. You can extrapolate from there: premarital sex between engaged couples is like smoking pot, cohabitation is like having a cocaine habit, and hooking up casually is like doing meth. In their worldview, gay sex is like heroin, and they insist it’s actually as dangerous as heroin.

The overt hostility to most sex, and only tacit acceptance of in-the-dark-missionary-position-married-once-a-month-sex is pretty much the defining feature of the religious right. Many religious-right leaders are beginning to clue into the fact that their overt anti-pleasure attitudes aren’t good for PR, so there’s been some attempts to remake their arguments against all sex outside of heterosexual marriage to create something more enticing. Ted Haggard, for instance, tried to sell the line that if you’re Christian and wait for marriage, you’ll have “the best sex life.” Even when he was pushing the line initially, it seemed forced, but later revelations that he did not, in fact, think he had the best sex life and instead chose to have meth-fueled gay sex with prostitutes proved exactly how dishonest his claims really were.

Slightly more convincing are various grassroots attempts by religious-right women to actually live the claims that chastity before marriage means nothing but hot sex after marriage. (And of course, you have unmarried fundamentalists like Lila Rose working the “sexy virgin” angle as hard as they can.) It’s understandable that
fundamentalist women feel the need to take this approach.

The hostility toward sex for pleasure hasn’t prevented men in red states from becoming the biggest consumers of porn. Their claims that anti-feminism makes women happier has to butt up with images of sexually liberated feminists doing whatever they want to please themselves sexually. But even a site like Christian Nymphos is shot through with the belief that sexual pleasure is a dangerous force that must be strictly controlled, and that women may only have it if they
sacrifice their autonomy and dignity to a Biblically mandated female-submissive marriage. At their site, single women are not even allowed to leave comments or ask questions. Even knowledge of sex is considered too much for a woman who isn’t under direct control of a man. And for married couples, all sexual thoughts and fantasies are to be directly strictly toward their spouse, erasing their individual sexual natures. In other words, even pro-sex right-wing Christianity is still hostile to the concept that individuals have a right to their sexuality.

The religious right is much more comfortable treating sex like it’s dirty, and then obsessively cataloguing how dirty each act is in comparison with other acts. For an entertaining look at how outrageous this can get, I highly recommend watching this clip from “The Dildo Diaries,” in which the Texas legislature debated whether or not to make anal sex illegal. When challenged about whether or not the law should ban it even for married couples, Rep. Warren Chisum said it should be banned “especially” for married couples, and added, “I can’t believe anyone would do that if they was married.” Much hilarity on the floor of the legislature ensued, but the moment really stands out in history as a crystallization of the social conservative attitudes toward sex: it really shouldn’t exist at all unless it’s within in the confines of marriage and with as little imagination and frequency as possible.

Once you grasp how the social right sees this issue, many of the other issues that matter to them make sense: their hatred of Hollywood for suggesting that sex might be something people do for fun; their jihad against pornography; the war on birth control and Planned Parenthood; objections to abortion rights; support for abstinence-only education; and their objections to the HPV vaccine. And of course, extending any rights whatsoever to gay people. It all goes back to sex, and their sense that it’s a filthy thing to do in all circumstances, though of course filthier in some more than others. But the idea that sex is anything but a naughty thing you should try to avoid seems as much an anathema to them as adding a daily glass of wine to the food pyramid would be to teetotalers. ”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/story/152577/why_are_religious_conservatives_so_scared_of_gay_sex?akid=7644.123424.ov_pSD&rd=1&t=8