The War on Religion: A View from the Trenches

If the war against religion is real, as Republicans constantly assert, then I am one of its generals.

I am, after all, the founder and executive director of a 14,000 member organization that has as one of its primary goals the desire to ensure that evolutionary biology -- and only evolutionary biology rather than creationism in any and all of its guises -- is taught in public school science classrooms and laboratories.

As an organization, we are outspoken and clear about our intent. We believe that those who want to substitute their reading of the Bible for science lessons are mistaken and must be stopped at the doors of our public schools. We believe that those who disingenuously cast doubt on basic biological principles in an attempt to promote their religious worldview are doing great damage to our educational system. We believe that those who disparage virtually every professional biologist in the world and disagree with virtually every professional scientific society in the world in their attempt to force their religious beliefs into scientific lesson plans will, if they remain unchecked, march us into a dark age of scientific illiteracy.

We are relentlessly attacked as being anti-religious because those making such a claim make two loud but completely baseless assertions. On one hand they claim that teaching evolutionary biology in science classes turns students into atheists and thus is a direct assault on religious belief. On the other hand, they claim that evolutionary theory itself is a religion, the religion of secular humanism. (Let's ignore the inherent contradiction that if evolutionary theory is a religion that we're promoting, we certainly can't be waging a war against religion. Indeed, if evolutionary biology is a religion, which most assuredly it is not, then we would simply be promoting one religion over another -- which is dramatically different from being opposed to religion in general.)

As an organization, we are also outspoken and clear about another important point. We believe that the text of the First Amendment to the US Constitution dealing with religion is unambiguous: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." We fully support Thomas Jefferson when he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association on Jan. 1, 1802 that the first amendment meant "building a wall of separation between church and State." In addition to Jefferson's opinion, we wholeheartedly support the decisions of the US Supreme Court and numerous federal district courts that have repeatedly ruled that all attempts to teach creationism, whether those attempts include young earth creationism, "creation science," or intelligent design, are unconstitutional. Court after court and judge after judge, typically conservative judges, have consistently concluded that promoting any of these items in public schools is equivalent to the government promoting one particular religion -- something the First Amendment specifically prohibits.

Demanding that evolutionary theory be taught in public schools, fighting to dislodge creationism whenever it gains a foothold in those same schools, and respecting the language and intent of the First Amendment are viewed as acts of war in today's society. These are our tactics and we are not shy about them.

But are we waging a war on religion? Not a chance!

Our organization, after all, is called The Clergy Letter Project and we are a collection of religious leaders from many faiths. Almost 13,000 Christian clergy members have signed our Christian Clergy Letter. This simple two paragraph letter includes the following powerful statement:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.

Our letters from American Rabbis, Unitarian Universalist clergy members and Imans make much the same point. Religious faith is central to the lives of all of our signatories. Why would these religious leaders enlist in a war against religion? The answer is simple: they have done no such thing!

The men and women who comprise The Clergy Letter Project, religious leaders representing scores of religions and denominations, are not opposed to religion. What they are opposed to, though, is the belief that there is only one "right" religion and that American society must reflect the narrow position promoted by those who espouse that one view.

The women and men who comprise The Clergy Letter Project are certainly in favor of religion. But more than that, they are in favor of religious freedom, religious diversity and religious respect. They are willing to fight for their right to not have their religious beliefs marginalized because some claim they are not "pure" enough. And they do not feel threatened by those who adopt religious beliefs different from theirs.

These are not soldiers in a war on religion.

The real threat to religious freedom in America comes not from these people but from those who demand that religion must take only one form. The claim by Republicans that there is a war on religion turns reality on its head and attempts to make victims out of perpetrators.

The hate mail and death threats I've received over the years for leading The Clergy Letter Project speaks volumes about what the fight is really about: intolerance of religious difference by the narrow minded.