This week, The Washington Times ran a three-part series (links here, here, and here) by religion reporter Julia Duin. The umbrella title for the series was "Faithless: God under fire in the public square," and the 7,200-word package serves as an interesting look into the world of the Christian and secular activists who are fighting over how much religion should be allowed to shape public policy and public life. The stories are rich in the kind of details that make religion reporting fun to read. Did you know, for instance, that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State used to be called Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State? Or that the thing that convinced the Rev. Barry Lynn to enter the political was his intuition that laws against abortion were a sign of too much religious influence in American politics? (Though Lynn opines, "I do have very, very traditional religious beliefs.")
The second story begins with an "emergency meeting" organized by the American Humanist Association, held the weekend before President Bush's second inauguration, at which 20 organizations were represented. One of the organizations there was the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a "mom and pop" operation that issued a press calling September 11 "the ultimate faith-based initiative" only days after the attacks.
Duin coveys an impresive of compressed history in order to put the current dust-ups into some kind of reasonable context. She paints the ACLU, for instance, as an organization that was founded by left-wing radicals (including the odd Stalin apologist) but trimmed its sails some over time. She looks at some of the successes the non-God squad has had litigating against religion in the past and at the conservative Christian legal response.
Two issues loom large in this series: the Ten Commandments and the fight to control the judiciary. The first story starts in the Supreme courtroom, with the arguments over whether the Ten Commandments and other venerable religious symbols should be allowed on public property. The final installment begins at a church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the 130th stop in the nationwide tour of former Alabama judge Roy Moore's controversial two-and-a-half ton tribute to the Mosaic Law.
According to Duin, both religious conservatives and secularists are likely to see the country teetering over a precipice. Christians fear the sort of godless moral anarchy that is only a few unfortunate court decisions away (think Roe v. Wade squared). ACLU types fear that the current president's judicial appointments will lead to a string of victories for the forces of fundamentalism.
Lots of material in this series -- I smell a book in the works -- but Duin skimps on some of the practical political fallout of either side gaining ground. For instance, I talked to a political consultant friend the other day who said that if the Supreme Court rules against the Ten Commandments, the Republicans will absolutely destroy the Democrats in the midterm elections.