Time to Fight the Religious Right

Today marks the launch of the Campaign to Defend the Constitution (www.DefConAmerica.org), and what a time for such a campaign. I have no doubt that when historians look back at the late 20th and early 21st century, they will say that the most important development was the rise of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists, whether Christian, Islamic, or Jewish, share remarkably similar views on many issues -- and remarkably similar intolerance. I believe that the greatest threat to liberty in the United States is posed by the religious right, largely comprised of Christian fundamentalists. Across a broad spectrum of issues they want to move the law in a radically more conservative direction, ultimately threatening our freedom.

This spring, I argued a case in the Supreme Court challenging a six-foot tall, three feet wide Ten Commandments monument that sits between the Texas State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court. Fundamentalist groups filed briefs in the Court arguing that any religious symbol, anywhere on government property should be allowed and that the government only violates the Establishment Clause if it coerces religious participation.

What is frightening is that four Justices agreed with them. With John Roberts confirmation there may now be a fifth vote for that position. Under that view, the government can give any aid to parochial schools even for religious indoctrination, so long as it did not discriminate among religions. The government could place any religious symbol, no matter how sectarian, at its seat of government. Instead of defending the central principle of church and state separation, this view would seek to destroy it.

It is not just in the court where this threat exists. Monday marked the start of a trial determining the legality of the teaching of intelligent design -- creationism dressed up as psuedoscience -- in a Pennsylvania school district. That threat extends far beyond just one county in Pennsylvania, as moves are afoot in state legislatures and county school boards across the country to call established scientific fact into question and to supplant science curricula with ideology. No matter what the label, this is asking science courses to teach a religious theory for the origin of human life, exactly what the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional 20 years ago.

The threat even extends into personal freedom. I believe the Supreme Court got it exactly right in Roe v. Wade: a fundamental right of each woman is to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy. Taking this right away is a central aspect of the religious right's campaign. Likewise, it is the religious right that is leading the fight to keep gays and lesbians from having the fundamental right to express their love and commitment through marriage.

The religious right is the enemy of freedom. That's why the launch of DefCon: The Campaign to Defend the Constitution is so important. It seeks to counter the religious right, to alert the public to the dangers and risks posed by the growing fundamentalist influence in our nation; to build and mobilize an online community of concerned Americans willing to raise their voices; to mobilize concerned scientists, political leaders, and theologians to help Americans understand what is at stake.

My hope is that DefCon will become a premiere voice of Americans who are disturbed by the growing power of the religious right, and who are looking for a practical and meaningful way to fight back. I cannot think of a more important task for those concerned about freedom in the months and years ahead.