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 proselytizing faiths. 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 elite." 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 DeLay.)

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.

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