2005-01-21 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

There are many who have taken the reelection of President George as a mandate to make America into a Christian fundamentalist nation.

And, I fear that they are going to succeed despite the U. S. Constitution, which clearly says that there must be a separation between church and state.

There is, of course, a Christian majority in this country, which should make it easier for the fundamentalists to push their agenda to make their values into America’s values as well.

There is no way that anybody can say that this has not already begun to happen. It has.

And, from what I can see, there is great joy in the religious community over the move to “de-secularize” America.

Last week, Newsday asked various clergy members a simple question: Is it bad to criticize another religion?

Their answers surprised me.

The Reverend Ruby Williams, pastor of the Safe Haven United Church of Christ in Ridgewood said, “…Is it wrong to criticize another religion? If is it done constructively, no.”

The Reverend Arthur Mackey, the senior pastor of the Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Roosevelt, was even stronger. He pointed to the fact that even youth gangs use religion to further their agenda. “We must constructively criticize the wrong use of religion boldly,” he says.

Nouman Ali Kahn is the dirctor of Islamic Education at a Bay Shore Mosque. He told Newsday, “Religion justifies its existence by making a claim to the absolute truth, and while doing so, it must be able to refute ideas that contradict its own. The question, therefore, must be framed within the context of the ethics of disagreement.”

“In the end,” he adds, “the Quran emphasizes that there is no compulsion in religion.”

While those clergy, who may or may not reflect the mainstream beliefs of their faith, believe that only they have the true answer and that all others are doomed to be lost, there are others who do not.

Venkatesan Bhairavamurthy, the chief priest at a Hindu Temple in Flushing, said, “It is certainly bad to criticize another religion. Ignorance of the fact that religions are different spiritual paths available to different types of people is the cause of this tendency. It is incorrect to say that ‘your religion is wrong and to follow it is a sin. Get converted to my religion and heaven will be yours.’”

Finally, Rabbi Rhonda Nebel, from a conservative synagogue in Hauppauge, said, “It is bad to criticize another religion, provided that it is a true, viable religion. I don’t believe that if I criticize a fundamentalist who bombs people that I am criticizing a religion.”

Differing views, differing outlooks. That is what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they drafted the Constitution.

To understand why they drafted what has now come to be called the Establishment Clause” in the Bill of Rights, we have to remember that many of those who came to the original 13 colonies that made up the United States of America did so to find religious freedom, freedom from the tyranny of a state religion.

The Founding Fathers were not too far removed from those first settlers and they understood that nothing would destroy their new and rickety nation more easily than allowing one official religion to attempt to control the lives of its citizens.

That Constitution, approved in 1789, intended that the majority not put its boot to the throat of the minority, be it in religion or in anything field of government or life.

Witness, however, what is happening today.

State law in a number of southern states now allow health providers such as pharmacists to not serve customers whose medications or health care needs violate the pharmacists moral or religious beliefs. In many cases, that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills or to carry condoms.

The House of Representatives, now firmly under the control of the Republican majority, is reportedly looking at a similar bill that would make the ability to act on religious beliefs a national law.

And, not only is our national legislature looking to overturn Roe versus Wade, which took abortion out of the back alleys of American and put it into hospitals and clinics, it is looking to overturn scientific fact and Scopes versus Tennessee, the 1925 case that became so famous as the “Monkey Trial” that was so well depicted in “Inherit the Wind.” In that case, the Supreme Court struck down a state law prohibiting the teaching of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

You would have thought that would be the end of it, since there is so much powerful evidence that evolution is not a theory, but a scientific fact, like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. If you thought the question was settled in 1925, you are wrong. Now, 80 years later, we have an “alternative to evolution” called “Intelligent Design.”

Intelligent Design posits that all life on Earth was created by God over the course of six days sometime about 6,000 years ago. To those who believe in creationism or intelligent design, evolution is a theory that has yet to be proved.

In Elkton, Maryland, the school superintendent has blocked the use of a new Biology textbook because it does not include what has traditionally be called “creationism,” and is now called intelligent design.

In Dover, Pennsylvania, a school district is being sued for requiring textbooks to give creationism and evolution equal time in its science curriculum.

All teachers were ordered to read a statement to students before studying evolution. That statement read, in part, “Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book ‘Of Pandas and People’ is available to students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves,”

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, recently authored an op-ed piece in a Pennsylvania newspaper, praising the school district and calling evolution “a scientific theory that is open to scrutiny.”

In Cobb County, Kentucky. School officials ripped the section on evolution from all of its textbooks and inserted a sticker in all of those books calling for the study of intelligent design in the schools. The Supreme Court recently ruled those labels Unconstitutional and in violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause.

That decision is not going to stop Christian fundamentalists from forcing all of us to study creationism in the guise of intelligent design.

As far as they are concerned, when faith clashes with science, faith will win every time.

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