The Far Right’s ‘Big Lie’

by Dan Quinn

One of the major goals of the “big lie” tactic is to so discredit an opponent that his or her argument on an issue — no matter how reasonable and sound — has no chance of breaking through the rage of the self-righteous, intolerant and poorly informed. The debate over curriculum standards in public schools has put a spotlight on one of the biggest and most vicious lies of the far right: that opposing efforts to promote narrow religious doctrine in public schools somehow makes one a radical leftist who is hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education have used this line of attack repeatedly in recent years. It was part  of their strategy last year to insert creationist arguments against evolution into the public school science curriculum. They and their allies used it again when the Texas Senate refused to approve Don McLeroy for another term as chair of the state board last May. See here and here.

We have seen the same line of attack during the current debate over social studies curriculum standards for Texas schools. Take, for example, the false smear that teachers and others serving on the voluntary curriculum teams have engaged in a “war on Christmas.” Peter Morrison, one of the political extremists appointed by far-right state board members to help write the new social studies standards, also recently charged that “few things get liberals more agitated than talking about the Christian heritage of the United States.” (A blogger posted Morrison’s comments here.) Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, even claims that “There’s a hostility toward faith, specifically Christianity.” Bradley and his allies conveniently ignore the many clergy and people of faith who have testified before the board in support of teaching fact-based science and the truth that our Constitution forbids government from favoring or disfavoring any particular religion. All of those people of faith — even, at times, fellow Republican board members — get lumped into the “radical leftist,” “anti-religion” category.

We were reminded of all this again as our families celebrated Easter this weekend. On Easter morning writer Kerry J. Byrne posted this piece of self-righteous nonsense on a prominent far-right blog:

“The left has been at war with traditional American values for decades: the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, free enterprise, Christianity. All are objects of scorn and ridicule by those who hope to ‘remake America’ – to use President Obama’s phrase – into some sort of leftist utopia on the model of those that have already failed all around the world.

The war on Christianity is a particularly disturbing fight. The battle has been lowlighted over the years by leftists who twist themselves into intellectual knots in an effort to remove Christ from Christmas – which is like trying to remove the wet from water.”

The sneering accusations in that introduction are followed by a list of historical “facts” intended by Byrne “to remind folks that Christianity and liberty have marched arm and arm from the very beginning of the nation.” But his list is full of historical distortions. Among the worst is Byrne’s assertion about Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs:

“Did you know that the author of the Declaration of Independence was drinking the Jesus Kool-Aid? Did you know that he wrote a tribute to Jesus known today as ‘The Jefferson Bible?’

Probably not. Because leftists, especially those in academia, have worked diligently to strip the Christian beliefs out of the history of the Founding Fathers, choosing instead to paint them as non-denominational Deists.”

Yet while he greatly admired Jesus, Jefferson rejected the notion of his divinity and even belief in the Trinity. That’s clear in the Jefferson Bible, which Byrne offers as evidence of Jefferson’s devotion. Moreover, Jefferson — who championed separation of church and state — even saw organized religion as a potential threat to freedom:

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.”

Knowing this, it’s easier to understand why far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education don’t want world history students to learn that Jefferson’s ideas have inspired people struggling for freedom around the world for more than  two centuries. Yet they claim that “leftists” are the ones trying to hide and distort the truth about America.

The point of this isn’t to suggest that Jefferson was an atheist or hostile to faith. He was not. Religious faith was deeply important to most of the Founders. But Byrne is attempting precisely what far-right members of the Texas state board are trying to do: to promote the mistruth that the Founders intended to create a government and society based on fundamentalist Christian biblical principles. That’s what they want public school students to learn.

Byrne and certain state board members make clear that anyone who disagrees with them must be a radical leftist who is hostile to Christianity. In the case of the social studies debate, they use that “big lie” about opponents to hide the truth: the Founders knew that a government promoting one faith over all others could end up destroying liberty for all.