2005-05-20 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach


So it Begins.

The attack by the Christian Right on education and truth has come to New York State.

Assemblyman Daniel Hooker, who hails from Saugerties in the Catskill Mountains, recently introduced two bills in the Assembly.

The first would require the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in all the schools in the state. The other would allow the posting of the Ten Commandments on government property.

Because no other Assembly members co-sponsored his two bills, it is a strong probability that they will both die in committee when more rational legislators get a look at them, but one never knows in this brave new world.

It’s not hard to see where Hooker is coming from.

His website says that he examines all legislation in light of the bill’s impact on “free enterprise, limited government, individual liberty and traditional American values.”

It is the last that is troublesome. Personally, I don’t trust anybody who is so sure that they are right about every issue that they become zealots for their position. I don’t trust anybody who claims to know with certainty which values are “traditional American values.”

After all, it is clear that the idea of “Intelligent Design” is just “Creationism” all dressed up without the religious connotation.

It posits that life is too complex to have been created without an “intelligent designer.”

Who might that designer be? Golly, gee, we can’t say, those who favor intelligent design say. Could it be God?

“The scientific community sees ‘intelligent design’ as simply a more sophisticated attempt to sneak religion back into the classroom,” says Tim Gardner, a spokesperson for the Institute for Humanist Studies. “It is not a scientific theory. It is Creationism with a shoeshine.”

Assembly bill A08036 requires that all students in New York City Public Schools, from Kindergarten through Grade 12, receive instruction in both ‘theories’ of how life began on this planet – evolution and intelligent design.

The problem with the bill is that there is lots of scientific evidence for evolution, including artifacts and DNA evidence. The only evidence for intelligent design comes from The Bible, a book that was written over generations by men who had a definite religious agenda.

I know that statement is going to cause some people lots of anger because there are many who believe that every word in The Bible is divinely inspired. I am not one of them.

Hooker’s wife, Tara, is a teacher. He says that his wife’s educational background gives him a greater insight into the problems of schools.

His insight, however, is based not on factual information, what can be scientifically proven, but on what his religion tells him to believe. It is based on faith.

His faith.

Not my faith, and perhaps not yours, and therein lies the problem.

Our Founding Fathers, many of whom understood what it meant to have a “state religion” specifically forbid the government to either create a religion or to foster any one religious belief. That is what the Bill of Rights and the Establishment Clause are all about.

Hooker says that he believes in the Bill of Rights. Obviously, that only applies when the rights that are enjoyed by all are those of his particular religious group.

Hooker and the others want to teach a lie to the state’s students. Those who push for intelligent design want nothing less than to facilitate belief in their religion, sure in the ‘fact’ that those who don’t believe as they do are damned to spend an eternity in the fires of hell.

Those who believe that have the right to do so. Just leave the rest of us alone to believe as we want.

It is obvious that the Religious Right will not allow the rest of us to do that, even though the United States Supreme Court in 1987 ruled that states could not pass a law requiring the teaching of creationism along with evolution.

The Christian Right, emboldened by the reelection of George W. Bush and his strong religious stand, have renewed their efforts, however.

Witness Hooker’s new proposed law. Witness what is happening at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Some strange things were going on at the publicly-funded academy. Strange, unless you happen to be a member of the Christian right. To those who believe, what happened probably made lots of sense.

There was lots of pressure at the school to embrace the Christian right. The pressure came from faculty members and even from the football coach, who had a banner in the locker room that proclaimed his team as “Team Jesus Christ.”

One chaplain instructed 600 cadets to warn their fellow students who had not been “born again” that the “fires of Hell” were awaiting them.

Cadets were pressured to see “The Passion of Christ.” Official invitations ordering students to attend were put at each place in the mess hall. Those who resisted the “invitation” and those who refused to go to chapel on Sunday were taken from their assigned platoons and made to march with a “Heathen Flight” at official parades.

Christian cadets derided them for their failure to believe in “the truth.”

The Executive Officer in the Chaplain’s office at the academy was called in and told to remain silent on what was happening. She refused. The Yale Divinity School, in an official report, pointed out what was really happening at the academy. The exec, a female Lutheran minister, refused to deny the official report and to say instead that no pressure to take up Christian values and practices existed. She was reassigned to Okinawa the following week.

Then, there is the case of the Reverend Thomas Reese and the Jesuit magazine, “America.”

The dismissal of Reese for being too liberal on religious issues points out that even some dedicated Christians are not Christian enough for the Christian Right.

Reese’s sin, according to published reports in a number of religious publications, was that he “allowed America Magazine to serve as a forum for discussions that sometimes criticized the church’s handling of such sensitive issues as same-sex marriage, sexual misbehavior by priests and denial of communion to politicians who disagreed with the church on abortion issues.”

Charles W. Bell, who writes a highly-respected column on religious issues for Newsday and other papers around the nation, said, “Some conservative Catholic commentators and websites applauded the Reese move, but overwhelmingly, the resignation was viewed as a chilling sign of things to come.”

That, from a Catholic commentator.

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