In 2012, the religious right has veto power over one of two major political parties in the most powerful nation on earth. No candidate can win the Republican nomination without pledging allegiance to “one nation under [a religious-right] God.” Yet Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater, once said, “I don’t have any respect for the religious right.” How did this happen?
Shortly after the Republican convention in 1980, Ronald Reagan stood before evangelical ministers in Dallas, declaring, “I know that you cannot endorse me, but I endorse you.” This pivotal declaration, the culmination of effective organizing by the religious right, has brought us to the unprecedented moment in American history we face today.
Often unnoticed by the media and public, theocratic laws have already been passed in Congress and legislatures throughout America.
Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state.” James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, called for “total separation of church and state.” In the early 1960s John Kennedy affirmed American values: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute … where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.”
In the 1970s the religious right got organized, winning seats on school boards, city councils and in legislatures. Religious bias in government is widespread:
• Sex education for our youth replaced by religious propaganda.
• Stem cell research is thwarted by religion.
• The religious right bias holds sway in the military.
• A religious bias can be found in children’s laws (in faith-healing, child care, vaccination, corporal punishment).
• “Faith-based initiatives” discriminate with tax money and vouchers funding schools discriminate with tax money.
• Government funds for Boy Scouts discriminate against gay people and the nonreligious. (Girl Scouts don’t discriminate).
• A religious bias in public schools and textbooks and in impeding end-of-life autonomy.
These laws connect to thousands of real people harmed, both religious and nonreligious. Due to a federal loophole, there’s a separate legal standard in over 35 states for the misnamed “faith-healing” of children. Hundreds of children every year experience torture worse that Abu Ghraib, largely unnoticed.
While many secular activists shake their fist at a Home Depot manger with a plastic baby Jesus in the town square at Christmas time, there remain so many examples of human harm caused by religious bias in government.
Rather than religious bias, government must be guided by evidence and compassion. We must restore Jeffersonian values. We must work to achieve this Ten Point Vision of a Secular America:
1. Our military shall serve all Americans, religious and nonreligious, with no hint of bias or fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.
2. Health care professionals shall fulfill their sworn professional oath to provide service to patients with no religious bias — or they must find another job.
3. Any federal- or state-funded program, whether offering services domestic or foreign relating to reproductive health shall be based on public health, not religious bias or the denigration of women or sexual minorities.
4. There shall be no bias in employment, environmental or land-use law.
5. While marriage can be defined by a religion as that denomination chooses within internal ceremonies, government shall never impose a religious bias on the definition of marriage.
6. When facing end-of-life choices, Americans shall be guaranteed control over their own bodies, not thwarted by religious bias.
7. America’s youth shall never be subjected to religious bias in education. If there’s one penny of government funds, there must not be one iota of religious propaganda.
8. There shall be no political bias against secular candidates for public office.
9. There shall be one consistent standard for the health and welfare of children, no matter the religion of a child’s parents, school or child care center. Religious extremists can do whatever they choose with their own bodies, but children shall be treated as human beings, not pawns to be sacrificed in the name of religion.
10. Medical, technical, and scientific innovation shall be dedicated to the health and advancement of our fellow citizens and must never be impeded by religious bias.
Is America still the Enlightenment nation, the idealistic forward-thinking nation that brought our species to the moon?
Secular Americans are patriotic Americans who share the values of Jefferson and Madison. Americans must no longer timidly avert our eyes from rising theocracy. Secular Americans — people such as Brad Pitt, Warren Buffett, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates and George Clooney — know that this greatest of countries will move forward when we proceed based on Jeffersonian ideals. The ten-point vision offered here is positive, specific and pragmatic. This vision is America at its best.
Sean Faircloth is author of the new book “Attack of the Theocrats, How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It.” He served ten years in the Maine Legislature.