The Atlanta Constitution, Cox News Service, May 16, 2000 Tom DeLay, No. 3 Republican honcho in the U.S. House, wants the nationalgovernment to start making it easier for you to get religion, if he canpersuade enough other members, especially of his own party, to go along. You may already have religion -- most do -- but if so DeLay believes youare under attack and need federal protection. Or perhaps you've figuredthat, if you want to get religion, all you have to do is show up. That,DeLay suggests, is not good enough. So he is pushing two bits of legislation that, he says, ought to be amongthe ornaments of a Republican sweep in the presidential and congressionalelections this year. One would coattail on civil rights legislation by declaring it illegallydiscriminatory to withhold tax money that is available for public purposes-- public education, for instance -- from religious groups with similaraims -- religious schools, for example. Companion legislation would bar states and school districts from prohibitingvoluntary religious activity in public schools, so that, say, Christianevangelical students, or Hare Krishnas for that matter, could get upclassroom prayer circles or whatever and work on other students to join in. The effect of DeLay's program would be a level of government support forreligion unprecedented since our proto-theocratic colonies, with a decidedtilt, as a practical matter, in favor of the largest and the mostproselytizing faiths. This radicalism is necessary, DeLay said in a recent speech, because goodAmericans are in danger from "a cultural coup d'etat by the fashionableelite." These "privileged few are determined to discredit and ultimately replacecore American traditions" -- family, morality, truth itself. The elite, hesays, "is concentrated in the media, universities, tax-exempt foundations,the legal profession and the arts: wherever opinions are made."

That would seem to cover rather more social territory than can be calledconcentrated, and arguably the most volcanic eruptions of opinion these daysare from televangelists and right-wing radio talk shows. (And often from TomDeLay.)

But DeLay's contrary reading is a commonplace of the religious right: apoor-me belief that secularists or even mere separationists are out to harryand grind down the faithful.

DeLay's own figures make hash of that. He says only 6 percent of Americansare agnostics or atheists, but 22 percent of the "media elite" and 32percent of the "entertainment elite" are. If so, that means thatrespectively 78 percent and 68 percent are believers.

And as DeLay himself points out, Americans are the most religiouslybelieving and religiously active of all developed, industrialized peoples. If there is an anti-religious coup under way, it is hard to find the bodies.

It does not seem to have occurred to DeLay that religion is flourishing inthis country, not despite but because of the separation of church and state.If there is an anti-religious coup, it is hard to find the bodies.

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