by S. Amjad Hussain
The principal of separation of church and state and freedom of religion, enshrined in the very foundation of our republic is coming under close scrutiny. The Christian right wants to bring religion back into public life. Their recent successes and domination of the Republican politics have raised interesting but troubling questions.
The founding fathers, despite their own strong religious beliefs, knew the dangers of religious tyranny. After all this country was settled by people who had escaped religious persecution in the lands of their births. The founding fathers were also aware of the rampant religious intolerance practiced by the new settlements in New England. Rhode Island was settled by people who had to flee from the religious zealots in those settlements.
The success of Christian Coalition has been phenomenal. Since its inception in 1979 by Jerry Falwell to counter Washington's intrusiveness in the lives of Americans, the movement has become more organized, more sophisticated and increasingly political. It has been credited with the Republican sweep in the congressional elections last year. Today the movement controls thirteen state houses and holds sway in another eighteen. The Republican party has all but surrendered to the agenda of the coalition.
With 1.6 million active supporters and an annual budget of twenty five millions dollars and recent successes under its belt, the movement is poised to dictate the next presidential nominee of the Republican party. George Bush in his bid for reelection, succumbed to political expediency and let the movement dominate his campaign. Republican hopefuls for 1996 are treading the same path. It is amusing to see how some the candidates are changing theirs stripes to match the new landscape. It does not bear well for our political system when Bob Dole, Phil Gramm and Lamar Alexander, All GOP contenders, say a loud amen to the political gospel of religious right. School prayer, abortion, sex education and gay issue are certain to dominate the next presidential election. Issues like balanced budget, environment, health care and the foreign policy which in the post cold war era has been increasingly incoherent and disjointed, will be sidelined.
The coalition's recently unveiled contract with the American family appears noble and commendable. but behind the innocuous and popular goals of school prayer and control of public schools through constitutional amendment, there is a naked desire to enforce the writ of the majority on an increasingly reluctant and uncomfortable minority. This, according to the Time magazine, is the imposition of Bible- backed morality on public at large.
One only need to step beyond the shores of our country to realize how religious self righteousness dictate public policy in some other countries. In some predominantly Catholic South American countries only a certificate of baptism is accepted as a proof of birth even if the person is not a Christian. The will of the majority in some countries in Asia, Middle East and Africa have made life for minorities difficult.
There is a story about a man who while celebrating the independence of his country from colonial rule was walking jautingly on the street twirling his walking stick with total abandon. As it was bound to happen, the twirling stick hit a passerby in the nose. When asked the reason he answered that after independence he was free to do what he wished. "Your freedom, my dear sir," intoned the man with the bloody nose, "stops at the point where my nose begins." For over two hundred years a unique brand of religious tolerence and occomodation,an American original, has served this country well. For Christian right to be oblivious to the sensitivities of other faiths and to dictate its own political agenda is not right. Moreover there are no Rhode Islands left to populate.
[Surgeon-writer S. Amjad Hussain lives in Toledo, Ohio where he writes a bi-weekly column for the Op-Ed pages of The Blade.]
[The right-wing U.S. Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell, who died Tuesday at
the age of 73, is perhaps best known for his fundamentalist social positions
and tirades against lesbians, gays and feminists, not to mention "pagans",
"abortionists" and assorted other miscreants. But Falwell also had a
significant impact on U.S. foreign policy over the last 30 years, and was
one of the founding fathers here of so-called Christian Zionism - the belief
that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical "End Times"
prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious
support.--Bill Berkowitz, "Father of Christian
Zionism Leaves the Building," Inter Press Service, May 17, 2007]