In recent months the Bush administration has been campaigning vigoursly for the faith based Christian and Jewish communities to support him in November. This campaign is concentrated on the right wing fundamentalist religious groups that are also engaging in activities that receive federal funds. There is a fear that the faith-based groups are receiving government funds to engage in promoting their religious objectives and not just in social welfare activities. This is clearly nonconstitutional. Some of these faith-based programs require recipients to compulsory prayer. Other groups will only allow adherents to their faith to be hired by the organizations that are receiving federal funds. Our nation has been willing to give funds to faith-based groups that do not discriminate in hiring and in the administration of the funds received. Extremists of all religious denominations are now demanding that the funds be given without any encumberments to their particular religious beliefs being propagandized. Bush and his allies in the extremist religious communities are claiming that their particular political and religious philosophy can transmit their values in the political forum. They claim to represent the American people.
Reverend Jerry Falwell was quoted in a New York Times interview on July 16, 2004 as saying: “ For conservative people of faith, voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush.” As I write this column, the President is speaking to the Knights of Columbus-a Roman Catholic fraternal organization. He has pledged over $180 million in federal grants to Catholic charitable organizations. There have been reports that when Bush was in Rome meeting with the Holy Father he was actively seeking support from the Vatican. He wants the church to emphasize the issues he feels will influence the religious catholic. There have been attempts to influence evangelical ministers and fundamental black clergy to influence their congregants to vote for Bush. Bush has been speaking at church services trying to give the impression that he is the only candidate for people of faith.
The issues of homosexual rights and abortion are the wedge issues the President wishes to use to influence the right wing extremist religious groups in order to win in November. These non-issues are better handled through the states and court system of our nation and not through campaign for amendments to our constitution. No one truly believes that denial of rights to homosexuals and abortion restriction amendments can be passed. Our founding fathers in their foresight and wisdom made passing amendments to the constitution difficult. Campaigns of this nature need wide popular support and should not be waged for extremist groups.
President Bush has made promises to the religious communities he cannot and is probably unwilling to make. The religious community was instrumental in having Bush pledge $15 billion for AIDS relief in Africa. Two years after the pledge only 2 percent of the money has been distributed. Most of the funds distributed have gone to pharmaceutical corporations that demand their expensive drugs be used rather than generics. Stem cell embryo research should not be prohibited. Scientific progress cannot be prevented. Autopsies were also considered evil by the church fathers in medieval times. Birth control is still considered unnatural by some religious leaders.
A recent poll of religious fundamentalists in this nation shows that a high percentage of the Bush administration’s core constituencies believe in ghosts and witches. This constituency does not want Nobel Prize winners to do scientific research. Many will ban civil divorce and birth control if given an opportunity. The extremist religious right has missed the enlightenment, the French and American Revolutions, and the Renaissance.
Critics often wish to dismiss progressives as being opposed to religious values or being necessarily atheistical or agnostic. This is a false assumption. Religious belief needs to be tolerant and not compulsory and coercive. The Bible has always been and remains a major element in our national public life. The abolition of slavery, unionism, the civil rights movement, and anti-war activity have been part of our shared religious history. The conflict in the Old Testament or Torah between the Kings and the Prophets – between temporal power and the desire for righteousness- has been at the heart of the arguments in the American Revolution, the War between the States or Civil War, and the fight for economic justice. Jesus’s classic reinstatement of Jewish teaching of justice for the widow and stranger in our midst was absolutely revolutionary when uttered in a time that accepted slavery. H.G. Welles –himself a non-believer in his History of the World recognized the revolutionary nature of Christ’s teachings. The advocacy of human equality and that all men should work for peace, speaks to us today. The religious issues of today should be: capital punishment, why workers have no rights to be consulted when the firms are taken over, workplace safety, how the worldwide migration of people should be handled, AIDS prevention and relief, third world debt reduction, why the inequity between economic groups is growing, how to promote harmony and understanding among diverse cultures, how to combat religious terrorism without abusing the innocent and yes the guilty, and how to promote peace. The Bush administration has failed to meet the standards of the religious communities on these issues.
Church And State