Is the Religious Right Dead Yet? New Book Decries That it’s not

Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board
April 9, 2008


Warning: The scary and dangerous religious right isn't dead yet, and it's threatening the First Amendment.

That's the ridiculous and inflammatory theme of a new book co-authored by two far left activists with histories of trying to silence Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family and its founder, James Dobson. The book "First Freedom First: A Citizen's Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State" is co-authored by the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, and the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

A press release for the book states: "Despite rumors to the contrary, the Religious Right's influence over the government and the 2008 campaign remains alarmingly strong."

Unfortunately for conservatives, the statement couldn't be sillier. In November, the president-elect will be Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain. Obama and Hillary are boldly pro-choice on abortion and fetal stem cell research, two issues the religious right vehemently opposes. McCain, a morality moderate who divorced his first wife to pursue a woman 18 years his junior, gives Christian conservatives the willies. Yet they're all too religious for Gaddy and Lynn.

"This year's presidential election has often seemed to be more of a race for pastor-in-chief, than commander-in-chief," said Gaddy, in the press release.

So how are members of the religious right stealing the country? By asking questions, apparently, and hoping to find a candidate who shares their values. How dare they! A letter from the book's publicist, Adam Muhlendorf, says: "Nowhere is the intersection of religion and government more alive and well than in the Presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle."

To support this baffling statement, Muhlendorf reminds us that in national debates, candidates have been asked to "recite their favorite Bible verse" and "describe their worst sin." Oh, and this: When campaign literature describes a candidate as "a ‘committed Christian,' it is clear that our nation's ‘First Freedom' is at risk," Muhlendorf writes.

They're serious. They believe the First Amendment may be doomed because some candidates have revealed Christian beliefs. Rather than wonder about a candidate's religious beliefs, declares Lynn in the press release, "the American people want to know where the candidates stand on the critical issues of the day."

That's deep, except for those who understand that "critical issues of the day" involve morality and religion. Abortion, cloning, fetal stem cell research, capital punishment, homosexual marriage, drugs, taxation, and human rights come to mind as issues one can't divorce from atheism, secularism, humanism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other belief system protected by the First Amendment.

The press release quotes Walter Cronkite fabricating the Constitution. Cronkite says: The book "informs and challenges, as well as inspires and guides us on issues of vital importance to all of us - our founding fathers' vision for religious liberty and their constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state."

Constitutional guarantee? The phrase "separation of church and state" doesn't appear in the Constitution. Gaddy, Lynn and Cronkite wish it were so, because they desire to disenfranchise conservative Christians. They believe it's illegal to support laws against abortion, or homosexual marriage, or fetal stem cell research. They want a law against bringing religious views into public office, even though federal court rulings view atheism and secularism as religion, or mere beliefs. Christians "believe" in one omnipotent God; atheists "believe" no god exists. Secularists "believe" it doesn't matter.

Policy hacks who feign panic when a candidate prays, or mentions God, disrespect religious freedom. Nothing could be more antithetical to the First Amendment than to suggest it precludes Americans from electing ministers, priests, rabbis, or devout believers of any ilk to public service.

The book suggests 10 questions we must ask candidates to "safeguard separation of church and state." A few examples, with Our View answers:

Question: Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?

Answer: Yes. A pharmacist has First Amendment protection to exercise religion. If her religion says "never dispense the purple pill," then so be it. Find another pharmacist. Likewise, government can't force physicians to perform boob jobs, abortions or other procedures they may not like.

Question: What should guide our policies on public health and medical research: science or religion?

Answer: Either, both or whichever the political process chooses. If members of Congress outlaw eugenics, because of their religious convictions, then Congress makes lawful and religion-based medical and public health policy.

Question: Do you think one's right to disbelieve in God is protected by the same laws that protect someone's right to believe?

Answer: Of course. It would be hard to find a politician in the land who would answer otherwise. The question was devised to suggest that religious conservatives wish to force belief on the public.

Question: Leaders on the religious right often say that America is a "Christian nation." Do you agree?

Answer: No, but Christians comprise a majority of America's electorate, and they're entitled to vote.

The First Amendment protects a free marketplace of beliefs by ensuring free exercise and forbidding a government-sanctioned belief system. It does not ban or "separate" faith and morality from political life and public policy, as doing so would establish secularism or atheism as the official religion of the land. Despite the histrionics of a shallow new book, the Bill of Rights won't crumble when a candidate says "God" or if a president prays.