Religious Right groups spend a lot of time beating on church-state separation. TV preacher Pat Robertson once called that constitutional principle “a lie of the left” and said it comes from the old Soviet Constitution.
Not to be outdone, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association asserted that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation.
Others have been less hyperbolic but have still made it clear that they’re no fans of the handiwork of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Take Alan Sears, for example. Sears runs the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the nation’s largest Religious Right legal group. He once called the church-state wall “artificial.”
Funny, though, how that “artificial” wall that the Religious Right tells us over and over doesn’t exist and was never intended by the Founding Fathers can come in handy sometimes - like when the right wing wants to attack yoga in public schools.
In Encinitas, Calif., an attorney named Dean Broyles has filed suit against the Encinitas Union School District, asserting that a voluntary yoga program for students violates church-state separation. Broyles runs a small legal outfit called the National Center for Law and Policy, which, according to its website, defends “faith, family and freedom.”
Broyles is proud of his association with the ADF and notes that he “has received extensive training in pro-family, pro-life and pro-religious liberty matters at ADF’s outstanding National Litigation Academies (NLA). Because of Dean’s pro-bono work, he was invited to receive special training at ADF’s advanced NLA. Dean is proud to be an ADF affiliate attorney and member of ADF’s honor guard.”
Was Broyles asleep when Sears explained that separation of church and state doesn’t exist? How else can we explain his use of the principle in this lawsuit?
Or could it be that Broyles and the ADF are just being hypocritical? They have no use for separation of church and state when they’re trying to inject fundamentalist Christianity into the public schools. When that’s their game, they tell the courts, the media, and the American people that separation is not a valid legal principle. When they’re attacking what they perceive to be school promotion of a religion they don’t care for, suddenly the church-state wall is their best friend.
Broyles is arguing that the yoga program violates Article I, Section 4 of the California Constitution. That provision is longer than the federal constitution’s First Amendment but essentially provides for the same measure of church-state separation.
It reads in part, “Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed…. The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
In a press release, Broyles observes that the yoga program “represents a prime example of precisely why in America we wisely forbid the government from picking religious winners and losers, especially when you have a captive audience of very young and impressionable children as we do in our public schools.”
I agree wholeheartedly with that part about the dangers of the government picking religious winners and losers in public schools and the need to shield impressionable children from coerced religious activity. I just wish the ADF and its allies applied that standard to all religions.
I don’t know if Broyles has a case. A lot of people these days practice yoga for secular reasons - mainly as a relaxation and stress-reduction tool. But if Broyles can prove that the school’s use of it has a religious component or that it’s a feeder into a religious program, he deserves to win. The court has an obligation to consider the matter carefully.
I’m not bothered by the case. What bothers me is that the people behind it are raising church-state separation when they normally have no use for that concept. They seem to believe separation should be ignored when conservative Christians want to use public schools and other units of government to promote their faith but applied vigorously to every other religious group.
Sorry, guys, it doesn’t work that way. Separation of church and state is the best policy for all religions - and that includes the ones you like best.
If you’re a political junkie you might be following a story out of Florida centering on a man named Nathan Sproul. Sproul stands accused of engaging in voter registration fraud.
The other day a reporter from Florida called to ask me some questions about Sproul. I was surprised to hear from her because I didn’t think I knew anything about him, other than what I had read in the papers.
But it turns out I do. I had to rack my brain a bit, but it did come back to me. Back in 1995, Americans United had a run-in with Sproul while several of us were attending a meeting of the Christian Coalition in Washington, D.C.
Although it’s pretty much a shell of an organization today, the Christian Coalition in the mid-1990s was a Religious Right powerhouse. Backed by the fortune of TV preacher Pat Robertson, the Coalition’s budget reached $22 million in some years. It had a network of chapters nationwide, and its activists had taken over the Republican Party in many states.
Sproul at the time was serving as field director of the Arizona branch of the Christian Coalition. He gave a talk about how to infiltrate local units of the GOP - in itself an interesting thing for a supposedly “non-partisan” group to do.
Sproul’s major recommendation was that people be less than honest about their ties. In an October 1995 Church & State article (sorry - it’s not online), I reported that Sproul “urged attendees to become precinct committee chairs in the Republican Party but not to let anyone know the Christian Coalition is behind the move.” The idea was to build a presence in the GOP, get sent to the national convention and help pick the party’s presidential nominee.
Another speaker at that same session went on and on about how important it is to pose as a moderate - going so far as to recommend that you not sit near people perceived to be far right - so as to more effectively infiltrate the local party unit. (Once you’re in a position of power, of course, you can be as kooky right as you want to be.)
This is a pattern I’ve noticed from years of attending Religious Right meetings: There’s a lot of deceit. People are told to hide what they’re really about or to use stealthy techniques to infiltrate political groups.
In 2006, a speaker at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit outlined a plan to influence elections based almost entirely on deceit. Connie Marshner recommended calling people listed in church directories and finding out how they intend to vote by posing as a pollster. On election day, only those who indicated that they will vote for the favored candidate get a call back reminding them to vote. Marshner recommended people say they are calling from “ABC Polls.”
When someone in the audience asked what they should say if the person they called asked if they were working for a candidate, she recommended not being honest.
“Just say I’m collecting information about the candidates,” Marshner said. When others in the audience indicated some unease with the ethics of the plan, Marshner said it was time to move on.
One of the things that bothers me most about the leadership of the Religious Right is their smug arrogance. They loudly proclaim that their embrace of fundamentalism provides them with a superior platform for morality - the implication being that the rest of us have fallen short of their lofty position. They brag about their faith’s moral system and cast aspersions on those of us who have chosen a different spiritual or non-spiritual path.
They are so quick to judge others - yet what are their own ethics like?
They endorse an “end-justifies-the-means” theory of politics and engage in slash-and-burn forms of character assassination.
They embrace people like Newt Gingrich and actually charge a serial adulterer with the task of lecturing the nation on the need for “traditional marriage.”
They align with Ralph Reed, whose ethics are for sale to the highest bidder.
They attack gay people and drive parents from their gay children - and have the audacity to call it “pro-family.”
They urge pastors to ignore the law and politicize their churches by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The more I read about Sproul’s troubles in Florida, the less surprised I am that he’s having difficulty. Maybe if he hadn’t spent so many years working for the Religious Right, the man might have a proper moral foundation.
Coercive persuasion is often used in gaining and keeping recruit in politically active Religious Right groups beyond the empire of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. We see cult practices at work in both Catholic and evangelical entities as well. My purpose in this post is not to delve deeply into the details of issues related to cults or to enumerate which groups use them. Rather, I want to surface this as an area of knowledge in which many of us, certainly myself, are deficient, even as the cultic aspects of politically oriented cults are serious. The zealotry we often see, is often less because of belief in particular doctrines so much as cultic control by leadership.
These things said, just because a group is religious and politically conservative, does not make them a cult. I do not believe that and I know that Steve does not either. He offers rigorous, scientifically founded characteristics cults. He also points out that cults are not limited to religious groups or to conservatism. There are business, political and psychotherapy cults as well. Indeed, anti-democratic cultic influences can disrupt the normal functioning of well established organizations, as Marshall Ganz ruefully revealed about the way the therapy cult Synanon essentially took over and largely destroyed United Farm Workers.
While his whole book is about the characteristics of cults and what people can do to help friends and loved ones come out from the totalist control of such groups, the short definition of a cult, he writes is: “an authoritarian group headed by a person or persons with near complete control.” He also discusses how groups use specific techniques to gain influence and control over people. Broadly speaking, he says this is accomplished by what he calls “destructive mind control.”
Cult influence is designed to disrupt a person’s authentic identity and replace it with a new identity. By immersing people in a tightly controlled, high-pressure social environment, destructive cults gain control of members’ behavior, thoughts, and emotions. They limit their access to outside information. They literally take control of their minds.
By now, everyone knows that President Barack Obama said yesterday that he personally favors marriage equality. Obama said his views on the issue have evolved and told ABC News, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
The president didn’t say that he will push for the idea or that he’ll undertake any specific policy proposals to bring about marriage equality, but an announcement like this can’t help but reverberate widely in an election year.
Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of an endorsement of marriage equality by Vice President Joe Biden and a vote in North Carolina amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions.
All of this means that the “culture wars” are back - at least for the time being. Religious Right leaders will use the new developments to energize their base, raise money and rally around presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Whenever this issue comes up, Religious Right groups make reckless charges. One of the things they frequently claim is that houses of worship will be forced to perform same-sex marriages.
No, they won’t - not as long as we have a First Amendment. I’ve said this before, but here it is again: Pastors have the right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for any reason. For example, imagine a heterosexual, non-Catholic couple that has been cohabiting walking into a Catholic church and demanding to be married. Fat chance. The priest is going to tell them that they must first convert to Catholicism and establish separate households.
This Friday, students all over America will choose to remain quiet in school. They’ll be participating in the Day of Silence, an annual event designed to protest the bias and bullying that often silences gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students.
The premise behind the event is simple: Students attend classes but do not speak for the entire day. The Day of Silence isn’t sponsored by the schools. It’s run by students, often through a Gay-Straight Alliance Club that many schools now have. (Ironically, these clubs exist thanks to a federal law backed by Religious Right groups, which were eager to get Christian clubs into public schools.)
Every year, Religious Right organizations throw a fit about the Day of Silence. In recent years, the American Family Association has gone as far as to implore parents to actually keep their kids home if other students in the school are taking part in the event.
That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. How are fundamentalist teens negatively affected because some of their peers choose not to speak for a day? What’s it to them?
I got curious as to how the Day of Silence plays out on the ground, so last night I asked my daughter, a high school senior who has participated in the project in the past and plans to do so this year, to explain to me how it works in her school.
Claire said it’s very simple. At the start of the day, students who want to remain silent get a sticker from the Gay-Straight Alliance and wear it all day. This lets fellow students and teachers know that that this student is taking part and won’t be speaking.
It’s up to each teacher to decide how to respond to this. Claire is aware that she’s running a risk. She said her Spanish teacher in particular values class participation, and she knows that the teacher has the right to penalize students who refuse to take part in her class. Sanctions can include getting a failing grade for the day or even in-school detention.