A Strange Double StandardRABBI DANIEL LAPIN
Why is only Christian participation in the democratic process perceived as a threat to constitutional safety?
Not that long ago, when Americans said something was right or wrong, they meant right or wrong in the eyes of God as revealed in the Bible. In advocating a return to those days, I am not suggesting anything new; I am recommending something old and proven. I am not suggesting further exploration and experimentation down a dark and unknown alley; I am suggesting we turn around and retrace our steps until we once again find ourselves in familiar and safe territory.
During the last few years, one group has begun to respond to the fact that America is on a dangerous, downward slope. Regarded by some with admiration and by others with vilification, the so-called Christian Right has not caused a rift through this land they simply have recognized and called attention to the fact that one exists. In the time-honored American tradition they have mobilized the political process in an attempt to return America to a safer course. Welcome to democracy.
Why the double standard?
If one examines several recent events through the eyes of religious Americans, it is hard to see the changes America has undergone as anything other than a deliberate attempt to alter our nation's foundations in a way that denies and denigrates religious faith. I believe it is important that we recognize the recent surge in political activism among Americans of faith to be what it truly is. It is their response to a perceived threat to their interests, a threat to the very foundations of religious faith and liberty on which America was founded.
Let's face it: Participating in the democratic process through this kind of political activism earns admiration when practiced by Jesse Jackson on behalf of African-American causes. It is greeted enthusiastically when practiced by Jewish groups. It is warmly welcomed when practiced by homosexual activists. But when Christian groups organize to protect their interests, they are demonized.
Not only is this intellectually dishonest, it is also inconsistent with the American way. Jews may be encouraged to vote out of office those representatives perceived to be inadequately supportive of Israel. Blacks may be encouraged to vote out of office those representatives who are thought to harbor illicit feelings. Same with pro-gay and lesbian interest groups. Why, then, the double standard? Why is it unacceptable for Christians to encourage one another to vote out of office those politicians who oppose their family-friendly agendas? Why is only Christian participation in the democratic process perceived as "intolerance" and a threat to constitutional safety?
Little by little, year after year, those united behind a secular agenda have succeeded in imposing countless changes on Americans. Had the trend sometimes favored tradition and family and sometimes gone the other way, I doubt that a movement of Christian conservatives would be necessary today. But the trend has been overwhelmingly directed to only one end: It has inexorably shifted American society away from policies friendly to Judeo-Christian tradition. No sooner has one unfriendly change been successfully implemented than the next hostile policy initiative has been launched.
A policy born of hatred
Madalyn Murray O'Hair's victory marked one of these major changes. Today, the removal of prayer from the public schools is generally regarded as an enlightened move that spoke against bigotry and with compassion to all Americans, whatever their faith or lack thereof. Most Jews and other religious minorities welcomed this Supreme Court ruling as an improvement that would make them feel more included in American society. Christians saw it entirely differently.
Few Americans are aware that O'Hair actually harbored a maniacal hatred for this country and had tried desperately to emigrate from here to the Soviet Union. In fact, her son Bill Murray's autobiography reveals that instead of being a loving mother concerned for her son's rights or feelings, she was a violent and cruel woman who merely used her son to advance her goals. Bill Murray's book presents a very different picture from that shown in the famous photographs of an all-American boy and his loving mother on the steps of the Supreme Court in 1962. After all, most Americans do not, while denying they are Communists, attempt to emigrate to the Soviet Union.
After doing just that and being refused entrance by Russia, O'Hair returned and began her crusade. As her son recalls, she was incensed upon hearing that he participated in school prayers:
"You stupid fool," she said, slapping me hard across the face. "Don't you understand what is going on yet?" Her face was flushed again. "Listen, kid, the United States of America is nothing more than a fascist slave labor camp run by a handful of Jew bankers in New York City. They trick you into believing you're free with those phony rigged elections. Just because we can run around the street free doesn't mean we are really free.
On June 17, 1963, in an act of judicial fiat that went against the will of the majority of Americans, the Supreme Court, with only Justice Potter Stewart dissenting, awarded victory to O'Hair and defeat to millions of religious Americans.
Perhaps it does not legally make a difference that O'Hair desired the destruction of this country and was a despicable individual. Or that the "hero" of another landmark decision of those years, Larry Flynt, was by his own admission a "scumbag." Or that Norma McCorvey, the true identity of Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade, now admits she was manipulated by others and profoundly regrets her part in the Court's landmark ruling on abortion.
What should make a difference is the fact that these issues have not died down. If, almost forty years after a ruling, the issue still causes major conflict between large segments of our society, perhaps the Court was the wrong place for the issue to be decided. The Supreme Court has on occasion reversed itself. The Court is composed of human beings who occasionally do need to make a correction when hindsight shows that they allowed misplaced logic to rule. A classic example is the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of the 1890s, which allowed legal racial segregation until the Court overruled itself in the legendary Brown v Board of Education. Our Supreme Court, for all its greatness, is not above human error. The judiciary certainly possesses the incredible power to impose a certain moral view on America. The fact that America has not accepted every view that our courts have attempted to impose does suggest that there is a tug-of-war going on.
My father, a renowned rabbi, repeatedly told me that there is an imaginary fifth section to the four-volume text, the Shulchan Aruch, that codifies Jewish law. He used to call it the Volume of Common Sense. Looking back at the judicial rulings of the 1960s, that virtue of common sense seems to have disappeared. Our sense of decency and our belief in the Constitution were used as tools against us. We were manipulated by those who, by their own admission, hated both America and God.
For those of us who believe that restoring prayer to the public schools is an essential element in defeating drug use and promiscuity, it is not uncommon to be dismissed as simplistic. How foolish we must be to blame society's ills on the absence of a three minute activity at the beginning of each school day! But let us imagine that the ruling never took place. At the time, eleven states already prohibited Bible reading in school. After the decision, the New York Times reported that 41 percent of school districts would need to change their practices. If the judiciary had not been an activist one and had left decisions in the hands of local school boards and individual states, we would have been able to better judge the impact of removing prayers from schools by comparing school districts. An activist Court took away the option of letting communities determine themselves what works and what does not and of allowing society to evaluate its own choices.
Liberal doctrine will argue that it is wrong and simplistic to blame the removal of prayer from schools for the astounding increase in violence, pregnancies and drug use over the last few decades. And I agree. Yet it is very plausible to contend that the removal of prayer was a cataclysmic change, an iceberg in our path, which helped lead to all these negatives.
The neutrality myth
The fallacy at the root of the removal of prayer from schools is the belief that the opposite of religion is neutrality. What is clear to me is that by removing religious references in the classroom, an anti-Judeo-Christian religion has taken its place. Instead of achieving neutrality, we have achieved unfair and intellectually dishonest bias. Nowhere is this more clear than in the creation-evolution debate.
Let us try to understand the unspoken but unmistakable message our children are receiving. Few have been as succinct and honest about the moral message contained in evolutionist dogma as Harvard professor and leading evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould. In his closing comments for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary for David Suzuki, called The Nature of Things he said, "Now that we know we were not made in anybody's image, we are free to do whatever we wish." I personally suspect that this view has less to do with his paleontological training and more to do with his secular Jewish background and the flag of the USSR that used to decorate his office wall.
Unlike religious Catholics and Jews, religious Protestants tended to rely on the nation's public schools for their children's education: reading, writing, arithmetic, history, science, and so on. But then aggressive secularism was forced onto the nation's schools during the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and it increased in intensity with each passing year. It reached unprecedented heights of extremism during the '90s. Not only have Christian parents found that academic standards have declined, but when they send their six-year-olds off to first grade, anticipating excited accounts of traditional learning and activities they discover that they have been naïve and deceived. For example, in the early 1990's, New York children came home from school speaking of an explicit lesbian advocacy text read in class: Heather Has Two Mommies. Christian parents' religious beliefs instruct that the best home situation for a child is a loving mother and father, and that lesbianism (something they never would discuss with a six-year-old) is a sin. Yet their children's teacher taught that their way of thinking showed a lack of compassion, or at best an antiquated belief.
After justified outrage, the New York school board underwent major changes. But similar examples exist in many other school districts throughout this country, and in instances have not received the national press or the positive result that this one did.
The very moment any parent might suggest that some books are not suitable for elementary school children due to sexual explicitness, the entire academic establishment explodes in indignation at the whisper of censorship. In contrast, whenever a school library discovers some long-forgotten volume which political correctness now decrees might offend one group or another, that book is instantly yanked. When the school inflicts books on youngsters which deliberately undermine the moral and religious convictions of parents, it is termed "education." Should parents complain, they are portrayed as narrow-minded or "intolerant."
Is it any wonder that so many Americans feel an entire new set of values has been shoved down their throats? Is it not clear that a moral tug-of-war is being waged in America's public schools?
Sex education classes routinely promote as normative those ideas that are abhorrent to religious adherents of many faiths, including, once again, the Christian community. There is substantial proof that these classes lead to increased and earlier sexual activity among our youth. When Christian conservatives speak of starting the school day with prayer and allow that a child's parents may ask to have him or her excused from the activity, liberals shout that that would make the child stand out from the crowd and cause his self-esteem to suffer. Why, then, when Christian conservatives complain of children being forced to take sex education courses that conflict with their religious values, are liberals unabashed in answering that the children's parents can always ask to have them excused?
Offend no group, except
It seems to me that we have reached a point where it is demanded that the concerns and sensitivities of every group in America must be taken into account with the sole exception of the concerns of America's Christians. Given that their concerns so often spring directly from the pages of the Bible, it is disturbing to me that Jews so seldom support them on these matters. What is worse is that much too often, those school board members pushing an anti-religious agenda on the schools are themselves Jewish. Recently, in both Texas and Illinois, Christian parents organized to democratically vote out of office school board members who were fighting ferociously to introduce condom programs to small and largely conservative school districts. In both cases, the offending board members were secular Jews. In both cases, the local Jewish communities created a national uproar by alleging anti-Semitism. What are Christian parents to do?
As a citizenry we have allowed our tax dollars to be used to promote the arts. Unfortunately much of what passes for taxpayer-supported "art" is nothing short of obscene defamation. Can anyone imagine the federal government funding an "artistic" rendering of Martin Luther King dunked in urine, or a map of the state of Israel smeared with excrement? Of course not. If such an abuse of tax dollars had slipped through, the outrage would have filled editorial pages and front pages of newspapers for days. Those responsible would have been rightfully fired. But when tax dollars funded a so-called work of art that depicted a crucifix dipped in urine, we heard only high-minded drivel from the secular Left and the cultural elite about the necessary price of free expression. Once again, Christians were subjected to society's strange double standard and placed in a position where they were forced to fund insults to their faith.
"Don't force your values down our throats"
Often, as I speak on these issues across the country, someone in the audience hurls this tired old corker: "The religious Right is trying to force its values down our throats." I have a standard response which I enjoy offering. I inform my listeners that the secular Left has introduced sexual indoctrination and condom distribution to eleven-year-old public school students. It has made the enjoyment of tobacco the moral equivalent of child molestation. It has dramatically increased illegitimacy in America. It has created an entertainment ethos that brings smut and vulgarity into our living rooms. Take an honest look at the values that the secular Left has already succeeded in forcing down the throats of religious Americans. How can anyone honestly confront the changes that have been inflicted by the secular Left and worry about the changes that the religious Right might force down our throats?
I contend that the values concerned Christians desire for America are not changes, but simply the return to an earlier and legitimate status. If you fling an invader out of your land, back over the border he illegally crossed in the first place, you are not guilty of aggression. It is called self-defense. You are worried that the religious Right might succeed in forcing their values onto us? I am worried they might fail, for they are our values too. Or at least they ought to be.
Lapin, Rabbi Daniel. "A Strange Double Standard." Chapter 5 in America's Real War (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1999), 31-37.
This chapter is reprinted with permission of Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
There is a tug of war going on for the future of America. At one end of the rope are those who think America is a secular nation; at the other end are those who believe religion is at the root of our country's foundation. In America's Real War, renowned leader and speaker Rabbi Daniel Lapin encourages America to re-embrace the Judeo-Christian values on which our nation was founded, and logically demonstrates why those values are crucial to America's strength in the new millennium.
Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Daniel Lapin
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