IFAS | Freedom Writer | October 1996 | guide.html

How to win the fight

By Skipp Porteous

There are three things we can do to win the battle against religious political extremists. The first two offer the best solutions for immediate, but temporary, success. They are, however, insufficient for long term, permanent results.

The three strategies are: expose, oppose, and superimpose. We must continue to do what we have been doing, and that is to expose the agenda, the methods, and the effects of the Radical Religious Right. This involves research, working with the media, speaking out at public meetings, writing letters to the editor, calling radio talk shows, publishing newsletters, and networking with other groups.

We oppose the Radical Religious Right by organizing coalitions, registering and educating voters, working with the media, initiating legal action when appropriate, and organizing social action committees in churches, synagogues, mosques, and cultural groups.

Our number one weakness, in my opinion, is that we're afraid to take a moral stand on issues that affect us as individuals and as a nation. This is where superimpose comes into play.

As we continue to expose and oppose religious political extremists, we must initiate a movement to effect permanent change. We need to superimpose greater ideals than those offered by the Radical Religious Right. To superimpose means to lay a grid over an existing pattern - to lay down our system of ethics and encourage people to live by them.

Until now, our response to the Radical Religious Right has been largely reactive. It's time that we become proactive. Because of our refusal to take a moral stand, we've allowed religious political extremists to gain the upper hand.

Our unwillingness to take a moral stand is based on several objections:

It is incumbent upon us that we take the higher ground. We've allowed the Radical Religious Right to gain the upper hand by default. If we correctly identify the problems facing us as a nation, and are willing to lead, we will win this battle.

Religious political extremists use fear to build support for their agenda. They get hysterical about AIDS, abortion, violent crime, illegal drug use, and high taxes. These are legitimate concerns, but they are only symptoms of a society gone awry. As a cure for these symptoms, they bash gays and lesbians, assault doctors, legislate capital punishment, seal the borders, exclude immigrants, and eliminate welfare programs.

As objectionable as abortion may be to some, we don't need a constitutional amendment to curb abortion. We need to intensify sexuality education, support strong families, reinforce interpersonal relationships, improve communication skills, build self-esteem, create jobs, and teach personal responsibility.

While many of us agree with some of the moral/ethical positions of the Religious Right, we are afraid to bring religious ideas into the public forum. I believe our values are just as good, and, in fact, better, than those of the religious political extremists. What makes their positions hard to bear is that they are dogmatic, insisting that their way is the only way.

In response to the phrase "You can't legislate morality," they answer, "Well, if you can't legislate morality, what can you legislate?" Well, you can't make people moral through the power of the state. Let's change hearts, not laws.

If the 94% of Americans who say they believe in God truly practiced their religious ethics, we could pull the rug out from under the Radical Religious Right.

If, over the next few years, the crime rate dropped dramatically, and our streets became safe to walk at night, if the AIDS epidemic disappeared, if abortion was the exception rather than the rule, what ammunition would the Radical Right have? How would they mount a campaign?

If our schools were free from violence, a safe haven for our children, and if SAT scores were up, how could the Religious Right make an issue over evolution or sex education?

Fundamentalists, with their intolerant viewpoints and narrow agenda, will always be with us. But they are a minority; they always have been a minority and they always will be a minority. The only reason they are being heard so loudly now is that they are pointing out some real areas of concern.

If we are to advance a system of ethics as a way to fight the Religious Right, we must lead the way through teaching and by example. To initiate and maintain such a bold strategy, we must do it through our representative religious and cultural organizations, and not through government or law. If we maintain a high wall of separation between church and state, we can avoid the establishment of oppressive law and avert human rights violations.

If spiritual people practiced their beliefs, we could bring this nation to a new height of social awareness. There are great opportunities ahead for all of us. This strategy will take time and dedication, but, if applied over time, I sincerely believe it will work.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.