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The Fugitive Atheist Act
July 16, 2002
By arendt

"No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

- U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 2 (the basis for the Fugitive Slave Law)

Fast forward to tomorrow: a bill submitted to Congress by the Sons of the Biblical Confederacy, a.k.a. the Grand Hypocrisy Party:

Whereas, our first Big Lie, that the founders of the U.S. (agnostics almost to a man) thought of America as a "Christian nation", has been repeated often enough to brainwash the church-going fundamentalist masses; and, whereas, our second Big Lie, recently expounded by Tom Delay, that "separation of church and state is a myth", is currently being parroted by a supine media and rammed through packed courts with well-funded test cases (we especially enjoyed the specious and distracting economic apologetics of the Supreme Court's 5-4 School Voucher decision); therefore, it is now time to declare that theocracy shall know no restraints in our benighted country.

Hence, we promulgate the Fugitive Atheist Act:

"No atheist or non-Christian residing in the U.S., relying upon the guarantees of the First Amendment, shall be discharged from funding the ancillary operations of Christian sectarian religions, but shall be forced to tolerate these 'takings' of organized religions upon the public purse and to submit to sectarian dogma delivered under the pain of denial of public service. This act validates, as the basis for these takings, the unfounded and anti-historical claim of 'religious intent' of the Founders of this country put forward by self-interested religious sects, who covet the American government's property as much as Henry VIII coveted the Catholic Church's property when he he set up the state religion of Anglicanism."

By this act, we openly declare war on separation of church and state and on public literacy - two of the bulwarks of American democracy. It is our intention to create religious schools like the fundamentalist Islamic madrassas where children will be taught a cartoon-like version of Christianity and distrust and hatred of anyone not equally fundamentalist.

By this act, we equate secular or a-religious activity with atheism, just as John Ashcroft has already equated criticism with treason. We also declare all non- Christians, be they Buddhist, Hindus, or Moslems, to be second-class citizens. We re-affirm our designation of gypsies, homosexuals, and feminists as vermin.

By this act we create a specially-privileged class of corporations, known as Christian churches, which are given tax exemptions while still being allowed to engage in partisan political activities, such as the recently reported event of a teacher taking a class on a field trip to picket abortion clinics.

By the deliberately vague phrase "ancillary operations", we invite religious leaders to press for further handouts from the government and further intrusions of religious dogma into the government, such as "faith-based health services".

However this act, shall in no way be interpreted as applying against those anti- environmental groups which have invented the concept of "takings" to prevent the necessary protection of endangered commonly-held environments.

It would be a refreshing bit of honesty if the Republican counter-revolutionaries would introduce the above mock legislation. At least then their agenda would be clear, without the endless obfuscation of their anti-democratic intentions. But, the Republican Party is the most prominent American example of Scott Peck's "People of the Lie" since the slave-owners, who were also masters of denial, self-justification, and intricate dissembling. Witness the quote at the beginning of this article, which the historian James M. McPherson calls "the typical oblique language of the Constitution on slavery". Or recall that the epithet "wage slave" was used by slave-owners against Free State working men long before Karl Marx had written Das Kapital.

Today's Republicans have set themselves a much harder task than the slave-owners. The word "god" does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. And the word religion only exists in the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of any.

On the other hand, slavery was "obliquely" written into the Constitution. Slaves had been held for the entire existence of the U.S. prior to the Civil War. So, slave-owners had law and precedent on their side. Their mistake was the arrogance with which they enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. They rubbed the faces of the Free States in their powerlessness to prevent their own residents from being kidnapped by, as McPherson puts it, by "professional slave catchers (who) did not always take pains to make sure that they had captured the right man". The result was Abolitionism and war.

To accomplish their task, today's Republicans have propaganda tools unavailable to the Confederate fire-eaters. They have raised to the level of an art form the use of religious venues to convey hard-right political messages without loosing their tax exemption.

They have bought and paid for the mainstream media, which daily insults our intelligence with its partisan refusal to pursue criminal wrongdoings by Republicans at all levels of government, while blaming Bill Clinton for every problem since tooth decay. They have funded a veritable menagerie of right-wing think tanks that churn out the party line on matters great and small. By laundering and repeating the rantings of marginal fundamentalist and neo-Nazi cranks, they have steadily dripped the poisonous lie of "a Christian nation" into the public discourse.

When neo-Nazis invented "holocaust denial", the Jewish community understood what was at stake. They raised the alarm and pursued the deniers with publicity, and, when their denials impuned genuine historians, with lawsuits.

Surprisingly, no similarly clear and motivated defenders of the genuine definition of religious freedom by our Founding Fathers have made a similar impact. Perhaps it is because no one is still alive to testify in the first person about the Founders' intentions. Or, perhaps it is because it is easier to get away with saying some thought that didn't happen (Christian nation) did happen than that some fact that did happen (holocaust) didn't. In the first case, all you have to do is concoct phony evidence; in the second case, you have to destroy real evidence. Or, perhaps its because "theocratic subversion" isn't a catchy-enough phrase for our sound-bite happy media. Whatever the reason, the alarm has not been clearly sounded; and the barbarians are inside the gates, courtesy of the self-avowed aristo-phile and Opus Dei member Antonin Scalia.

The assault on public education is a core tactic of these theocrats. Democracy is impossible without a genuine free press and a citizenry educated enough to supply the context to judge the news that press reports. The Republicans have already hijacked the press, and they have been out to hijack the educational system for quite a while.

Over the past twenty years, we have witnessed the propaganda campaigns for creationism, creation science, home schooling, charter schools, school vouchers, moments of silence, use of public school buildings after hours for religious clubs, displays of the ten commandments, to name the most prominent. Some have succeeded, and some have failed. But the movement has never faltered. It has delivered a relentless, distracting, expensive, and chilling assault on the ability of the public schools to carry out their function. The contortions and missteps caused by responding to this assault are then cited as further reasons to defund the schools.

That we are well on the road to the evisceration of education about true and vitally important American history can be made clear by asking a random American adult to explain the Fugitive Slave Law and its role in the genesis of the Civil War. You might as well ask him to derive Einstein's theory. (You needn't bother to ask about Darwin's theory. That has already been "disappeared".)

When history is gone, we will be in the land of George Santayana, doomed to repeat the worst brutalities of the twentieth century and the worst inequities of the Robber Baron Era while fighting over the same worthless "my god is bigger than your god" turf as the sixteenth century wars of religion and the eleventh century crusades in the Holy Land.

Before they are burned, here are some historical reflections by just two of the countless authors who witnessed and fought the moral and social carnage of World War II. As you read them, recall the fire brigade in Fahrenheit 451, but give them the moral values of the Saudi Arabian religious police who locked girls in a burning school to "save their virtue":

"Every time a church tried to act through the propaganda devices accepted by an epoch, the truth and authenticity of Christianity were debased...In such moments (when acting through propaganda), Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax...Thus reduced to nothing more than an ideology, Christianity will be treated as such by the propagandist...this ideology will no longer be Christianity. It will be just another doctrine."

- Jacques Ellul "Propaganda"

Or, to put it more colloquially, Frank Zappa was right when he said that organized religion is nothing but a real estate scam - declare yourself a religion and get tax-free property. Also germane is the sentiment that a cult is just a religion that has yet to acquire pollitical power.

"Equality of condition...is not sufficient for totalitarian rule because it leaves more or less intact certain nonpolitical communal bonds between the subjects, such as family ties and common cultural interests. If totalitarianism takes its own claim seriously, it must come to the point where it has 'to finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess', that is, with the autonomous existence of any activity whatsoever... From the point of view of totalitarian rulers, a society devoted to chess for the sake of chess is only in degree different and less dangerous than a class of farmers for for the sake of farming. Himmler quite aptly defined the SS member as a new type of man who under no circumstances would ever do 'a thing for its own sake'."

- Hannah Arrendt "The Origins of Totalitarianism"

So, just as in the Dark Ages (when Catholic peasants were taught to see every element of their miserable lives as merely a prefigurement or a symbol of their heavenly life to come and were told that this world was merely a test for the next) get ready for the theocrats to reduce our society to third-world sweatshop levels of poverty, all the while proclaiming a great religious crusade against moral evil. (Oh, my mistake, Bush the Younger already announced the crusade last September.) Expect executions of evil-doers instead of football in your stadiums. (You can bet Mr. Ashcroft is studying this Taliban innovation.) If you want a prefigurement of this world to come, you can go work for Wal-Mart and attend a Christian Identity church.

Or, you can get as tired of the in-your-face arrogance of these fundamentalist mandates as the Free State Abolitionists got with the slave-catchers and the Southern-dominated Federal courts that supported them. You can go out and do something about the unconstitutional insertion of fundamentalist Christian dogma into the government of our modern and decidely diverse/secular society.

Never forget that the Abolitionists were deeply religious and, at first, a villified minority.

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