Right Engages the Public ... Left Goes to Court

Monday, July 25, 2005

Right Engages the Public ... Left Goes to Court

Again and again, this seems to accurately sum up the strategy embraced by groups traditionally identified on the right and left sides of the ideological spectrum. And, writing as someone who generally falls a la gauche, it really worries me.

On Saturday, I received a fundraising solicitation in the mail from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), a group that does a commendable job fighting efforts by the Religious Right to shatter church-state separation. This mailing, like similar ones from other interest groups, contained a reprinted news article -- one that appeared in the New York Times on June 29.

The article was headlined, "Conservatives Seek Voters' Support for (Ten) Commandments." The article includes a ridiculously misleading analogy -- this quote by conservative Congressman Ernest Istook (R-Okla.):
"Those people who want to express their religious beliefs on public property should enjoy the same rights that we provide to those protesting the war in Iraq."
Uh, congressman, religious people in America enjoy far more rights than anti-war protesters. I don't recall in recent years hearing of mass arrests of religious marchers akin to what happened in August '04 to anti-war protesters in New York City. But I digress.

In the Times article, AU President Barry Lynn refers to recent Supreme Court rulings as he declares that "our hand was strengthened significantly" by the high court rulings. Maybe so, maybe not. But focusing on the immediate legal impact of those rulings misses the big picture.

Although Lynn said AU would hold off of filing additional lawsuits, the Times reported that AU "had four pending suits to remove other displays of the Commandments." Although I support these kinds of lawsuits, I'm concerned that our side is too one-dimensional. We need to develop a grassroots, outreach effort that engages the public, building a coalition of churches and other groups that understands and supports the principle of church-state separation.

Unfortunately, nothing in AU's mailing suggests that they are developing such a grassroots, educational effort.

The Religious Right is rolling out a grassroots strategy that is likely to coincide with the 2006 elections -- a strategy in which they take their message directly to the America people. AU and allied groups need to take their message beyond the courtroom to the public square.

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