A Dark Hint of What Is to Come

On April 30 we reported that Texas State Board of Education members were appointing a social studies “expert” panel that includes unqualified ideologues who argue that the Constitution doesn’t protect church-state separation and want U.S. laws and public policies to be based on the Bible. We’ve also seen signs that anti-Muslim bigotry could play a big role in the debate over what Texas students learn in their history, geography and other social studies classrooms. Now we have another sign.

An Internet talk show hosted by David Barton, one of the new social studies panelists and head of the Christian-right advocacy group WallBuilders, will feature an interview with Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center on Tuesday, May 12. The show’s title is “AIG Promoting Islam?”

What’s this all about?

The Thomas More Law Center is a legal outfit based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that uses the courts to advance the religious right’s “culture war” on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and even evolution. In fact, Thomas More represented creationist school board members in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District court case in which a federal judge found that teaching “intelligent design” in public schools is unconstitutional.

Last December Thomas More filed a lawsuit claiming the federal government’s bailout of American International Group, the huge insurance company at the heart of the financial meltdown late last year, violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The lawsuit claims the federal government is promoting Islam because AIG had developed insurance products for Muslim customers that don’t violate strict Islamic law on such things as charging interest.

Mainstream conservatives, such as a blogger at Secular Right, have been among the strongest critics of the lawsuit:

The fact is that offering some products that are of special appeal to Muslims does not amount to supporting Islam any more than offering a wider choice of meatless entrees during Lent amounts to supporting Christianity. Given the action’s likely unsuccess in court, it’s hard to see what point it could have other than to stick a symbolic thumb in the eye of devout believers in Islam.

Conservative blogger Eugene Volokh agreed:

The “endorsement” argument doesn’t make sense here, because reasonable observers wouldn’t treat the government’s decision to bail out AIG, including its subdivision that sells financial products that Muslims prefer for religious reasons, as an endorsement of Islam.

Same message from First Amendment blogger Marc Randazza:

(T)his lawsuit seems to be patently frivolous and based more in a hostility toward Islam than a true belief in a separation of church and state.

Isn’t it a bit galling that the Christian right, which so opposes separation of church and state, is ready to misuse that constitutional protection to promote religious bigotry?

Of course, the Christian-right media has been doing all it can to fuel the fires of anti-Muslim hysteria. A headline on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Web site asks “Islam Waging Financial Jihad?” The story quotes one of the hysterics talking about the U.S. government-AIG-Islam links (such as they are) from last December:

Today it’s happening at the Treasury Department under the Bush administration, to say nothing of what will happen under the Obama administration– actively promoting the activity. It’s madness. It’s reckless. I think if most Americans knew what was going on here, if they knew what was at stake, would be horrified.

The lede from a December article on the far-right WorldNetDaily site:

After American International Group Inc, or AIG, reached two major bailout agreements totaling $152.5 billion in taxpayer dollars, the company is stepping up its dealings with Islamic finance by offering Shariah-compliant homeowners insurance to the U.S. – outraging critics over AIG’s support of a “discriminatory ideology, that is against equality, and that is against liberty.”

And now David Barton, newly appointed as a social studies “expert” who will help decide what the next generation of Texas schoolchildren learn about the world and its people, is using his radio show to contribute to the anti-Muslim bigotry crusade.

Are we surprised? Of course not. Last fall Texas State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna, used religious bigotry in his re-election campaign against Laura Ewing of Friendswood. Bradley sent out campaign fliers darkly suggesting that Ewing wanted to indoctrinate students with Islamic teachings.

Needless to say, the social studies curriculum battle could get very ugly.

UPDATE: Oh, this is lovely. Turns out that earlier this year, Thomas More teamed up with right-wing hate-radio host Michael Savage to oppose any efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Never mind that President Obama has said he opposes the Fairness Doctrine’s reinstatement. In fact, what concern there is that it will be reinstated is mostly manufactured by far-right hysterics.

Anyway, Savage is a particularly loathsome creature. In 2003 he launched into an on-air hate-fit, attacking a caller to his show:

Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it.

In announcing Thomas More’s work with Savage, Richard Thompson had this to say:

With the stink of public corruption blanketing Washington, with our elected officials passing the single largest spending bill in our nation’s history without even reading or debating it, with the increasing nationalization of our financial institutions, with almost dictatorial control of Congress by one political party, and with increasing signs we are becoming a socialistic country, Americans need more dynamic talk show hosts like Savage, not less.

And Thompson is the guy Barton, the State Board of Education’s illustrious “social studies expert,” plans to promote on his show this week.

7 thoughts on “A Dark Hint of What Is to Come

  1. All I can say to the State Board of Education is “bring it on.” As a biologist I find it ironic that the social scientists now have to put up with these right-wing nutcases. Maybe if the Board goes far enough it will mobilize a backlash from the more moderate Texans. Clearly the Board is at its best when it is “fearmongering.” Let hope we can expose them for what they really are: small-minded, fearful, un-thinking zelots.

  2. Well, perhaps I misunderstand the article. If so, you can set me straight. However, if the article means that an Islamic family can get an interest-free Freddie Mac (government fund-based) home loan because Sharia forbids charging interest but a Christian, Shinto, Buddhist, or agnostic family has to pay interest, there may be a very real problem there. You are giving the Islamic family a very special, totally religion-based break that no one else gets. It seems to me that this may be analagously close to the issue of Catholic pharmacists having the option to refuse to fill a birth control pill prescription. Both here and at the AU website where I was once a regular, the response to that one was, “Well, if you are Catholic and can’t take the heat in the drug store kitchen, go into pharmaceutical research rather than dispensing pharmacy.” Become an artist. Sell insurance. We might just have to tell the Islamic folks, “Well, we cannot give you a special break because of the First Amendment, but there is an answer for this in our society. It’s called “rent.”

  3. They actually do pay interest. It’s just not called interest. Its all is the way it is packaged. There is no such thing as a free lunch. There is no way that they can buy a house and the lendor not collect an interest equivalent.

  4. Man, these SBOE just want to destroy anything they can if it doesn’t fit their own beliefs!

  5. Just last month Amazon.com started giving typical promotion to my new book, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer. It makes the essence of the constitutional principle of separation understandable and undeniable. All who value the principle of separation should learn the importance of using the Constitution’s words for understanding and promoting the constitutional principle: the word in the Constitution is “religion,” NOT “church,” which word is misleading and a distortion. The Constitution’s religion commandments include the whole subject of “religion,” not just a church. Use of the wording “church and state” is a misrepresentation of what the Constitution says and leads people to think the Constitution is talking only about establishment of a “national church” or “national religion,” as our opponents claim. Get the words of the Constitution correct and everyone will have a better understanding of what the Constitution says and means. It means what it says: “no religious test” and “no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Religion is not the business of government.

    “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history” James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555.

    Forgive me, but it is way past time for separationists and so-called separationist organizations to stop distorting what the Constitution says and start winning the debate. It is the religion commandments in the Constitution for the United States of America which should be monumentalized on every statehouse lawn, displayed on the wall of every American courtroom, hung in the hallway of every American public school, and posted in public parks throughout America, not the religion commandments of Moses or of any religion. Anyway, you just read a bit of about what The Religion Commandments is.

  6. Gene Garman–

    You are correct that the Constitution doesn’t use the words “church and state.” This sort of thing isn’t news. However, law works by intent and not just by attempts at interpretation. The authors of the Constitution wrote separately of their intent, and over and over it’s clear that they intended the U.S. to be a haven for religious freedom, freedom from the religious persecution Europeans were under at the time — freedom from an official religion.

    Remember that there are people who read the future in the configuration of the stars and in people’s palms. People have found ways to read pretty much anything in the Bible, the Koran, and in Nostradamus’ writings as well. I wish you a prolific life of readings of the Constitution.

    If it’s written it must be true. May you amass many unquestioning followers. Please don’t serve cool aid.

  7. Joe is correct. Jefferson mentioned his “wall of separation between Church and State” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. A quick google search and you shall find it. It was Jefferson who asked his protege Madison to write the Bill of rights and include as first amendment, the establishment clause and the freedom of religion clause.