Saturday, January 31, 2009

Confronting A Sleazy Strategy

Why are American religious fundamentalists so sneaky about trying to use public policy to impose their beliefs on others? It seems that if they can't advance their political agenda through the front door, they attempt to do so under the radar.

When the courts ruled that creationism is a religious doctrine and has no place in public school biology classes, the religious right repackaged this biblical myth under the name "intelligent design" as a "scientific alternative" to the theory of evolution. But to paraphrase the expression here in the Philippines, it was just the same old dog with a new collar. Whom did the fundies think that they were fooling? Certainly not the scientific community nor for that matter the judiciary who eventually shot down this ruse as well.

More recently, there's the "moment of silence" (Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act) that a legislator managed to have introduced into that state's public schools. The law offered students a choice of personal reflection or silent worship, so that supposedly the latter was not compulsory. However, this was really enforced prayer in disguise, notwithstanding that state sponsored prayer in schools was banned years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. Proof of the stealth intention of this lawmaker is the language of the act, which required teachers to indirectly encourage pupils to use this time to pray.

Such tactics on the part of these right wing religionists are not only politically deceitful and underhanded but intellectually dishonest. Aren't followers of traditional religion supposed to set an example in the practice of ethics?

Fortunately, a federal judge ruled the Illinois law as an unconstitutional breach of church and separation, but the matter isn't finished if the State Attorney General decides to appeal this decision.

Contrast these devious methods of "God-squads" in promoting their interests with the open and direct approach that atheists and other secularists use to advance their cause. Perhaps this is because the legal filings in the interest of non-sectarianism are usually reactive in nature, i.e. in response to an abrogation of religious neutrality in a law or other decree. In other words, when non-believers protest against "prayer in public schools" for example, we do not object to students quietly praying on their own as individuals. Our complaint is against mandatory or sponsored prayer led by teachers or other school officials who as authority figures are directly or indirectly coercing all students to participate.

If American religious extremists think that they can get away with trying to violate the rights of non-believers without being detected, they are as misguided in this notion as they are in the belief that their dogma entitles them to legal special privileges. Based on the signals given in President Obama's inaugural address, there is hope that unlike in the days of the Bush administration, these zealots will no longer be able to ride roughshod either overtly or covertly over advocates of freedom of religion—and freedom from religion.

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