Authors: Sean Faircloth
How the Religious Right Harms Us All—
and What We Can Do About It
Foreword by Richard Dawkins
Charlottesville, Virginia 22901
Copyright © 2012 by Sean Faircloth
Foreword copyright © by Richard Dawkins
All rights reserved. Published 2012
Printed in the United States of America
19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 1 2 3 4 5
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Attack of the theocrats! : how the religious right harms us all — and what we can do about it / Sean Faircloth ; foreword by Richard Dawkins.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-9844932-4-1 (hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-9844932-5-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)1. Church and state—United States. 2. United States—Church history. 3. Christianity and politics—United States. I. Title.
This book is dedicated to my three sons, Brendan, Ryan, and Declan.
I am so proud of these funny, kind young men
The United States’ Founding Fathers, giants of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, were farseeing in their plans because they were wise in history. They knew the European past from which so many Americans had escaped, and they crafted a document of immunization against any such future. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, while individuals are free to practice any religion they choose,
the United States shall never be a theocracy
That first clause of the Bill of Rights, precious First Amendment to the greatest constitutional document ever enacted, is—or ought to be—the envy of the world. My own country is still nominally a theocracy, with twenty-six unelected bishops sitting, ex officio, in Parliament; and with the head of state synonymous with head of the Church of England and constitutionally forbidden to be a Roman Catholic (let alone a Muslim or a Jew). To this day, the Catholic-Protestant divide poisons Northern Ireland and, in miniature, Glasgow on a soccer Saturday—indeed, during the rest of the week too, for Glaswegians well understand the coded meaning of “what school did you go to?” And Britain is still infested with state-subsidized “faith schools.”
None of that would have surprised James Madison and his colleagues. It is exactly what they worked hard to forestall. But even they could not have foreseen the zealous nastiness of our twenty-first-century theocrats. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, Mustafa Ibrahim was judicially executed in 2007 for practicing “sorcery” (he was a pharmacist)—the same Saudi Arabia, our ally and oil provider, where a woman can be arrested for driving a car, for showing an arm or an ankle, or for being seen in public without a male relative (who may, as a generous concession, be a child). In Somalia, a thirteen-year-old girl, Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow, was sentenced in 2008 to death by
stoning, in front of a large crowd in a soccer stadium. Her crime of “adultery” was actually the crime—under sharia law—of being gang raped. After such horrors, the following, recorded of his country by a citizen of Israel in 2009, may serve as light relief by comparison:
In no other country are there streets without buses and tracks without trains on the Sabbath. No other airline but El Al sits idle one day a week. Cold platters on the Sabbath in hospitals and hotels are also something not seen . . . and the separation in certain buses of men and women are also unknown in democratic countries. Religion has never been separate from the state here; hand in hand they oversee our way of life.
The United States is officially not a theocracy. Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation still stands—but precariously, enduring a ceaseless buffeting, a hammering, and insidious chipping away by (mainly Christian) saboteurs, who either ignorantly misread the Founders’ intentions or willfully oppose them. And this is where Sean Faircloth rides in as a latter-day hero of the Constitution. His book is a timely—poignantly timely—manifesto of secularism (not atheism). His message is secularist and
in the true meaning of the term: conserving the original secularist principles of the Constitution—unlike the so-called conservatives of the Tea Party, whose aim, where religion is concerned, is unashamedly to undermine the core principle of the First Amendment. Sean Faircloth quotes Barry Goldwater: “I don’t have any respect for the Religious Right.” Though Faircloth was a liberal Democrat in the Maine State Senate, the following 1981 words of the arch conservative Senator Goldwater might have inspired this book.
There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in
A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.
Sean Faircloth was trained as a lawyer, and again and again his book uncovers the harm done to today’s Americans by religious bias and privileging in law. The least fortunate suffer physical injury, torture, and even death. Putting a face on the faceless, giving a voice to the voiceless, Faircloth champions these innocent victims of religious privilege. They include two-year-old Amiyah White, who died unattended in the van of a Christian child-care center. Why mention that it was “Christian”? Because the tragedy followed directly from the center’s religious exemption from state child-safety laws. In Tennessee in 2002, Jessica Crank died of cancer, aged fifteen, after her mother chose to have her malignancy treated by “faith healing” rather than scientific medicine. This useless “treatment” was administered under cover of a religious exemption from a state child-protection law.
Those are just two of many tragic stories. Countless other unfortunates who have suffered in the same way are lost footnotes to religion’s privileged dodging of civilized law. Seeking to restore the human element, Sean Faircloth calls on his readers to share accounts of martyred children and other victims of ignorant piety. Personal stories serve as lamentable entry points into his charge sheet against America’s theocratic politicians and hucksters. Readers may count the ways in which theocratic laws exact harm on American citizens—financially, socially, militarily, physically, emotionally, and educationally. But the “us all” to which his book’s subtitle refers is not restricted to Americans. The “theocratic attack” that has been under way in the United States for more than three decades spills out into the world at large (which incidentally entitles me, as a non-American, to recommend this book).
Faircloth takes the death of fourteen-year-old Saron Samta from a botched back-alley abortion in Ethiopia, and links it to the global “gag rule,” initiated under Ronald Reagan, which restricts women’s access to basic health information and services. He recalls George W. Bush’s infamous phone call to Jacques Chirac before the Iraq War, when Bush reportedly warned the French president that “Gog and Magog are at work in the
Middle East” and that “the biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.” Such crass evangelical certitude, trotted out by a sitting U.S. president to another head of state, is chilling. One can only imagine what biblical chestnuts were served up and swallowed in the prayer sessions that Bush held with the equally devout Tony Blair while scheming for their war. The fundamentalists’ undermining of American science has comparable international effects. The biblical idea of man’s “dominion” has resonated through the environmental policies of Republican administrations and informs public views on climate change, thus contributing to the degradation of the whole planet.
As Faircloth reminds us, 535 members of Congress make laws for the other 300 million Americans. He names and shames the fifty most egregious theocrats among them (all but three of them Republicans), omitting those who merely vote for theocratic policies while not being vocal about them. He gives honorable mention to Congressman Pete Stark as the only one of the 535 who has publicly come out as a nonbeliever. He might have added that, in a country where 17 percent of the population are nonbelievers (25 percent of those under thirty), it is statistically vanishingly unlikely that Pete Stark is really the only nonbelieving American to have been elected to Congress. Given the additional fact that nonbelief is especially frequent among educated classes, the inference is inevitable that a substantial number of the other 534 would join Representative Stark if only they had his courage and his integrity. Perhaps they overestimate the votes to be gained by cynically sucking up to the pious.
Faircloth pays just attention to one of the great iniquities of the American taxation system, one shared with many other countries. Religious institutions, churches, even obscenely wealthy televangelists, are tax-exempt, and privileged to be free from much of the burden of even
money for taxation. As he writes: