The Atlanta Constitution, Cox News Service, May 16, 2000
Tom DeLay, No. 3 Republican honcho in the U.S. House, wants the national
government to start making it easier for you to get religion, if he can
persuade enough other members, especially of his own party, to go along.
You may already have religion -- most do -- but if so DeLay believes you
are under attack and need federal protection. Or perhaps you've figured
that, 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 among
the ornaments of a Republican sweep in the presidential and congressional
elections this year.
One would coattail on civil rights legislation by declaring it illegally
discriminatory to withhold tax money that is available for public purposes
-- public education, for instance -- from religious groups with similar
aims -- religious schools, for example.
Companion legislation would bar states and school districts from prohibiting
voluntary religious activity in public schools, so that, say, Christian
evangelical students, or Hare Krishnas for that matter, could get up
classroom 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 for
religion unprecedented since our proto-theocratic colonies, with a decided
tilt, as a practical matter, in favor of the largest and the most
This radicalism is necessary, DeLay said in a recent speech, because good
Americans are in danger from "a cultural coup d'etat by the fashionable
These "privileged few are determined to discredit and ultimately replace
core American traditions" -- family, morality, truth itself. The elite, he
says, "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 called
concentrated, and arguably the most volcanic eruptions of opinion these days
are from televangelists and right-wing radio talk shows. (And often from Tom
But DeLay's contrary reading is a commonplace of the religious right: a
poor-me belief that secularists or even mere separationists are out to harry
and grind down the faithful.
DeLay's own figures make hash of that. He says only 6 percent of Americans
are agnostics or atheists, but 22 percent of the "media elite" and 32
percent of the "entertainment elite" are. If so, that means that
respectively 78 percent and 68 percent are believers.
And as DeLay himself points out, Americans are the most religiously
believing 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 in
this 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.