Last year, President Obama travelled to Turkey in order to restate America's case to the Muslim world, taking care to emphasize that the United States is "not a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation," but rather a republic "bound by ideals and a set of values." Such an assertion would not have been controversial among our Founding Fathers, who made their intent clear not only in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment but also in their private letters to one another. Nonetheless, there are a great many officeholders today who reject the demonstrable evidence of a secular republic in favor of the convenient myth of a Judeo-Christian enterprise, and Representative Randy Forbes is among their most effective leaders -- and all the more effective for having managed to operate largely under the radar for nearly a decade.
If you've heard of Randy Forbes, you most likely did so in the context of some or another occasion on which the congressman took the floor of the House in order to put forth a great deal of nonsense about how the United States was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation. Days after Obama's effort to communicate to the Muslim world one of America's most fundamental and wholesome aspects -- its encoded neutrality towards every variety of thought and conscience -- Forbes took the opportunity to undermine this message and convince Muslims at home and abroad that the United States is fundamentally and institutionally opposed to their beliefs.
Aside from being harmful to the present administration's reasonable and necessary attempts to heal the rift between our republic and a population that has largely come to see it as their enemy, Forbes' assertions are abject nonsense and may be shown to be such with a mere five minutes of research. In 1797 the Congress unanimously passed and President John Adams signed into law the Treaty of Tripoli, which plainly states that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." In the same era, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a correspondent that he did not "find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature" and that religions are "all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies." In his own correspondence, John Adams asked,
"How has it happened that millions of myths, fables, legends, and tales have been blended with Jewish and Christian fables and myths and have made them the most bloody religion that has ever existed? Filled with sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?"
I need not bother quoting Thomas Paine; the reluctance of our nation's theocrats to even mention the fellow conveys more in silence than Paine himself could in thousands of words. At any rate, Forbes himself once introduced a House resolution that "the Holy Bible is God's word." It is reassuring that this supremely unconstitutional effort was defeated in the House; it is less reassuring that such a thing would even come up for a vote.
Forbes is, of course, up for re-election this November, and it would be an easy enough thing for anyone who prefers truth over falsehood and consistency over confusion to support any opponent merely by default. Happily, one need not do so, as the opponent in question is Wynne LeGrow, a retired doctor who has shown from the outset a willingness to place his own principles over expediency, and who may thus be expected to do so as an officeholder. At the beginning of his campaign, LeGrow made a decision that damaged his chance to win but kept his integrity in tact: he announced to voters that he is an atheist.
There are probably a great many atheists and agnostics in Congress at any given moment, and most of those probably managed to attain such an office only by keeping their religious opinions secret; polls routinely show that atheists are mistrusted more than any other group, including Muslims. Pete Stark of California is a rare exception, having been up front about his atheism from the very beginning and having since proved his integrity and competence to those who believe that atheists are inherently devoid of both. If LeGrow wins this race -- and he has a very good chance, as the district is not particularly conservative and in fact went for Obama in 2008 -- it will demonstrate to the nation and the world that Stark is not a fluke, that good candidates can indeed be elected in this country without sharing any of the religious beliefs held by most of their constituents.
Of course, LeGrow's atheism has become central to Forbes' efforts to dissuade voters from supporting him. Nonetheless, LeGrow has managed to win over many of those whom the attacks were meant to persuade. As LeGrow's campaign manager Antonio Elias wrote to me earlier this week:
Within our own support base we have had only two instances of "dissent" due to the articles. One was an 87-year-old African American minister and staunch Democrat in Chesapeake who was quoted in the paper as saying "I could not vote for a man who doesn't believe in some power higher than his". Wynne phoned and then met with the Reverend. By the end of the meeting he was totally on our side and said "we have to get this man elected!"
Clearly, there are a great many voters in Virginia's 4th district who could be brought around to support LeGrow if only they were to be exposed to his message and his stance on those issues that will have a direct impact on their families in the coming years. And the district in question is among those in which one's donation will go farther than most in purchasing ad space and otherwise getting that message across.
This race is among the most important and potentially symbolic of the 2010 elections. Rarely has the contrast been more stark than it is here, where a competent contender is challenging a ten-year incumbent who himself is partly responsible for the policies that have left hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, that have cost well over a trillion dollars, that have damaged our credibility in the eyes of both our own citizens and those of the world, and otherwise deployed any number of amoral and destructive means in pursuit of no identifiable end -- and who has responded largely by reminding voters that his challenger does not share their particular religion. If LeGrow loses, the race will have served as another vindication of the degenerate tactics on which the Republican Party has largely come to rely in seeking power; if he wins, it will serve as proof to both America and the world that such tactics have run their course, and that Americans will occasionally choose a man who has demonstrated competence and integrity even to his personal detriment over another man who has demonstrated neither over the course of ten disastrous years.
If you'd like to have a hand in winning what has developed into a proxy battle between the clear values of the Constitution and the muddled proclamations of our nation's theocrats, join LeGrow's e-mail list, volunteer to assist with his phone banking efforts, or make a financial contribution.
Tomorrow afternoon I'll be interviewing Dr. LeGrow by phone, after which I'll provide a transcript for those who'd like to learn more about the candidate and what he hopes to do if elected.