Today Americans are faced with probably the greatest threat to the separation of religion and government in our nation’s history. This is a result of the political power grab by the Christian right in alliance with the Republican Party and the administration of George W. Bush. Esther Kaplan in her book “With God On Their Side” focuses on the “impact the Christian right, as a dogma-driven political movement, has had in dictating American policy.” Due to its political power, the Christian right has exerted its fundamentalist influence on a wide variety of areas including science, social policy, international relations, and our basic values of pluralism and democracy. Kaplan mentions that Bible study groups reportedly abound in the White House and the Justice Department while staff at the General Service Administration are reported to have held revival meetings during lunch hour.
The author reviews many areas of concern, two of which are the effects of religious intervention in the areas of science and in sex education. Kaplan notes, “Bush has appointed Christian activists, not researchers, to scientific advisory councils, while administration officials distorted science on government Web pages to avoid offending fundamentalists.”
National parks in crosshairs
The attack of the Bush theocrats has even put our national parks in its crosshairs. At Grand Canyon, science tells us that the canyon was created over 6 million years ago and rocks as old as 2 billion years have been found at the bottom of the depression. The creationist book, “A Different View,” available at the park’s bookstore, tells us a very different tale. The work claims that Grand Canyon was created several thousand years ago by the flood that launched Noah’s Ark. The creationist explanation would be laughable if it were not for the fact that many of Bush’s supporters and appointees believe this nonsense, and they are using their political clout to place the religious propaganda in the park’s bookstore in violation of a congressional mandate for the park service stores to “promote scientific understanding.”
In addition, tour guides, working for religious groups, are available to give visitors a “Christ-centered” tour of the park, and brass plaques with Christian Bible verses are reported to have been placed on the canyon’s rim. Kaplan admits that the Grand Canyon experience may seem to be minor but its effects have reverberated “throughout the entire Park Service.”
The park experience, the author notes, is typical of the Bush administration. “From global warming to lead poisoning, from AIDS to pregnancy prevention, the Bush administration has chosen to sacrifice science whenever it conflicts with the needs of Bush’s corporate patrons or his evangelical base.”
Kaplan voices great concern for sex education and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The Bush administration is pushing its extremist religious philosophy onto young people by emphasizing “No Sex” (abstinence only) over “Safe Sex.” The author comments, “While providers of comprehensive sex education and promoters of safe sex are in the business of saving lives, abstinence educators are in the business of saving souls.” The two groups are locked in a battle over goals: “between protecting health here on earth and seeking salvation in the future.”
The Bush administration has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into abstinence-only programs, mostly conducted by religious-backed groups seeking converts. Federal guidelines for the abstinence-only programs forbid the mention of condoms or birth control with the participants in the these groups even if a participant is sexually active. In addition, federally funded programs emphasizing comprehensive sex education, including birth control and disease prevention, have been harassed through frequent federal audits of their spending.
Kaplan’s book is an important and informative book. Its implications are frightening: the use of a major political party to impose a theocracy on America. Both religious and non-religious progressives need to understand the seriousness of this process and how far it has gone. The casualties in this attack are already high as the relentlessness of the Christian right “has drained the federal government of talent and expertise.” The brain drain is tremendous — the Center for Disease Control’s top AIDS posts are gone. Many other researchers have left, some without taking their retirement, and some even to other countries. The phony moralism of the Christian right is taking lives and not saving them (think of stem-cell research) through its attack on science and medical research. All of this is occurring as the result of a right-wing movement, which in the words of economist Paul Krugman (quoted by Kaplan) “is a movement which does not accept the legitimacy of our current political system.”