The American flag was appropriated by the political right wing years ago. Now the Christian right is trying to hijack religion. This time it shouldn't be allowed to happen without a fight.
In 1969 I returned to the United States from Bonn with my family after working for three years on issues directly affecting the security of American interests. It was the height of the Vietnam War. What did I find when we reached home? The flag had been taken over by self-styled patriots, noncombatant domestic supporters of the war and vocal opponents of the civil rights movement. Nixonites and George Wallace supporters were sporting flags in their lapels and stickers on their cars. Old Glory had been appropriated as the exclusive property of those who believed in "law 'n' order," a hard-line foreign policy and the primacy of conservatism in American politics.
It didn't help that some Vietnam War protesters stupidly burned the American flag. But what really ensured the loss of the flag to those who fancied themselves as having a monopoly on patriotism was the failure of equally patriotic Americans on the left and the middle to have any stomach for a fight.
Emboldened by their appropriation of the flag, ideologues on the right have now set their sights on religion, and specifically Christianity, as the means to promote their political agenda. And as the promoters of tomorrow's "Justice Sunday" national telecast have demonstrated, there is no depth to which they won't sink in their campaign to seize the country.
The statement by one of the sponsors of tomorrow's event, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is an example of the Holy War that is being launched by the right. In one of the most outrageous smears to be uttered by a so-called religious leader, Perkins said that "activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups . . . have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms." That is an unmitigated lie that should not be allowed to stand.
Which judges are out to rob Christians of their heritage? That is religious McCarthyism. Perkins should name them, provide evidence of their attempted theft of "our Christian heritage" or retract that statement with an apology. Don't count on that happening.
Angered by Democratic opposition to some of President Bush's judicial nominees, Perkins's group has also put out a flier charging that "the filibuster . . . is being used against people of faith." To suggest Democrats are out to get "people of faith" is despicable demagoguery that the truly faithful ought to rise up and reject.
But will that occur in American pulpits tomorrow? The Christian right counts on the religiously timid to keep their mouths shut. So why not exploit religion for their own ends? They will if we let them.
And that's just it. Americans of faith -- and those lacking one -- ought to vigorously resist attempts by power-hungry zealots to impose their religious views on the nation. That means standing up to them at every turn.
It means challenging them when they say of Americans who support a woman's right to choose; the right of two adults to enter into a loving, committed, state-sanctioned, monogamous relationship; the right to pursue science in support of life; the right of the aggrieved to launch aggressive assaults against racism, sexism and homophobia, that they are not legitimate members of the flock. Where do those on the religious right get off thinking they have the right to decide who is in and who is out? Who appointed them sole promoters and defenders of the faith? What makes them think they are more holy and righteous than the rest of us?
They are not now and never will be the final arbiters of Christian beliefs and values. They warrant as much deference as religious leaders as do members of the Ku Klux Klan, who also marched under the cross.
They should be resisted, not pandered to by politicians. Case in point: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The Republican leader is going to appear by videotape at tomorrow's self-pity party. He shouldn't. But if he does, Frist should use the occasion to tell the assembled that they are wrong in saying Bush's nominees are being blocked because they are people of faith. He should say that invoking Christianity as an instrument to advance a political agenda or to vanquish a political opponent is divisive, demagogic and beyond the pale in American politics. And if Frist shows up on TV and passes on the opportunity to place his party on the side of tolerance and goodwill, then his performance will be Exhibit A in the case to be made against his presidential quest.
The Bergen Record in Hackensack, N.J., editorialized that the attempt by the Christian right to dominate all three branches of government "has to frighten anyone who is not a Christian conservative. It should frighten us all." Baloney. It should make us mad. Fighting mad.