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Am I Blue? by Edd Doerr

Yes, clinically, because on November 2 so many millions of my fellow Americans flunked our quadrennial national intelligence test. They voted for fantasy over fact. They voted against their own economic interests, against their own civil liberties, against protecting the environment and moving toward energy independence and keeping good jobs in this country, against this country’s and the world’s safety and security.

They voted for George II’s mistaken adventure in Iraq and for sending more of their children to slaughter and be slaughtered.

Yes, I’m blue, in the political/geographical sense that I was one of the more urban, educated, informed, and “secular” voters who supported and campaigned for John Kerry and John Edwards.

By the time you read this column you will have seen the election analyzed, reanalyzed, picked apart, and despaired over ad nauseam. But in a column dedicated to church-state and religious liberty concerns there is still much to be said.

Among the all too few bright spots on November 2 are these virtually unnoticed items: George Bush’s own congressional district reelected Chet Edwards, a Democrat who has been an outspoken defender of church-state separation. And South Dakotans voted 53% to 47% to defeat a proposed state constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to provide transportation and food service for “sectarian schools.” This continues the trend of voter rejection of attempts to divert public funds to faith-based schools in 26 statewide referenda between 1966 and 2004. Interestingly, South Dakotans defeated this measure most heavily in the counties that voted strongest for Bush, according to a county by county analysis by my colleague Al Menendez.

Then, too, Californians voted to provide $3 billion for embryonic and other stem cell research.

It is useful to recap the damage that the second Bush administration will surely try to inflict on church-state separation and religious liberty, the subjects on which this column (in The Humanist magazine) specializes.

The Supreme Court: George II has made it abundantly clear that his two favorite justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the most anti-separation duo ever to serve in the Court. With three or four vacancies expected on the Court in the next four years, expect Bush to nominate clones of these two. On page 4 of Ken Foskett’s new biography, Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas, we read: “Senior aides to President George W. Bush, whose father put Thomas on the Court, have consulted Thomas about succeeding William H. Rehnquist as the nation’s next chief justice.”

Now there’s a helluva scary thought! Further, as the lower federal courts are traditionally stepping stones on the way to the Supreme Court, we can expect Bush to flood the Senate with nominees well to the right of the moderates nominated by Bill Clinton, many of whom were turned down by Senate Republicans.

The only protection the country has against Bush’s remaking the federal courts in his own image is the thin blue line of Senate Democrats, hopefully augmented by a few moderate Republicans, who are not afraid to use their one remaining weapon, the filibuster.

Congress: Bush’s congenial Congress can be expected to continue pushing for the privatization of education and social services, a drive intended to compel American taxpayers to support “faith-based” operations exempt from most anti-discrimination rules applicable to public institutions. Bush and his myrmidons are flipping the bird at Ben Franklin’s wise dictum in his Poor Richard’s Almanac exactly 250 years ago: “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one . . . God helps them that help themselves.” Until more Americans wake up, only the courts can halt the worst violations of the spirit and letter of the First Amendment.

Executive Branch: What Bush cannot get done by Congress he tries to do by executive order. One example is his order to allow tax-funded faith-based charities to discriminate in hiring and to promote sectarian religion. Another is his refusal in 2003 and 2004 to deliver $34 million approved by Congress to the UN Population Fund, despite his own advisers’ approval of the grants. Still another is his ideologically and religiously motivated thumbs-down on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. (R.I.P. Christopher Reeve.)

Reproductive Rights: Although Roe v. Wade may not be in immediate peril, Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state courts have slowly and in diverse ways gradually eroded reproductive rights. In December 2003 I addressed the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington, a few days after Bush signed into law a congressional ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortions (bans ruled unconstitutional in recent months by federal courts in California, Nebraska, and New York) surrounded by a grinning, exclusively male photo-op cheering section. As I noted to the WNDC audience, if women were proportionally represented in Congress, instead of making up only about 15%, such legislation could not pass. November 2 added only five seats for women.

Bush won on November 2 largely because religious fundamentalists – Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish – were harnessed to a political bandwagon and/or rose to great prominence in one of our historic political parties. Led by unscrupulous “pastors” (etymologically, those who herd sheep or other docile creatures), fundamentalist preachers and televangelists put their version of “faith” ahead of science, reason, common sense, and the nation’s best interests. More moderate, progressive, and liberal Protestants, Catholics, and Jews resonate to what John Kerry said about religious values that support inclusion, fairness, social justice, peace, and deeds (“faith without works is dead”).

In the months and years ahead Humanists and moderate to progressive “people of faith” across the spectrum will need to think, rethink, and strategize to bring our country back on course toward a more egalitarian, free, humane, and progressive path.

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Edd Doerr, president of Americans for Religious Liberty and immediate past president of the American Humanist Association, is the author of three new books, Min liv som Humanist (My Life as a Humanist), a Memoir; Somebody Has to Say It, a collection of letters and essays; and Rejoyce, Rejoyce!, a collection of poems. All are available from the author.