Former Moderate Republican Urges Former Party To Wake Up To Their Religious Bigotry

By Donald A. Collins | 14 February 2013
Church and State

Back in 1965 before Richard M. Nixon disgraced the Republican Party, I was one of many in that party who could have been dubbed “moderate”. Yes, I believed, and still do, in a strong national defense (although not one which claims to be the world’s policeman), safe property rights, a more civil bi-partisan discourse, careful conservation of our precious natural resources, reasonable allowances for helping the needy, and certainly making America open to new arrivals, but not illegally and not in the excess numbers now allowed here legally and illegally.

One basic verity in my code of beliefs was then and has been ever since the same. It is also one shared by most Americans, Republican (or Democrat), who call themselves “moderate”. That women worldwide should have the means and the right to decide when and under what circumstances they will bear children.

In 1964, a conservative Arizona Senator named Barry Goldwater ran for President against LBJ and got thrashed. Would Goldwater have used “tactical nuclear weapons”? One Johnson ad implied he would have, a view which has since been largely dismissed by historians.

Goldwater and his wife, Peggy, certainly matched my attitude about choice and the need for family planning. They married in 1934 and when she, according to Women’s Heritage Trail, “met Margaret Sanger and became part of a small group organizing Phoenix’s first birth control clinic, called the Mothers’ Health Clinic, located at Seventh Street and Adams. They publicized the clinic in the newspaper, volunteered, and raised funds for the organization at a time when people seldom discussed birth control publicly. The reversal in 1936 of the federal 1873 Comstock Law that forbade advertising and distributing contraceptives, a year before this clinic’s opening, made birth control legal in the United States. At the time, there were approximately 60 birth control clinics in the nation. Believing that families should be planned and that women needed to be able to control their fertility, Peggy Goldwater developed a very strong commitment to the birth control movement, which continued throughout her life.”

Her husband was equally committed to choice and was vigorous in his public statements about the separation of church and state:

“I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state. The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.”
(in a 1994 Washington Post essay)

“The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others,”
“I don’t have any respect for the Religious Right.”
“Every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell’s ass.”
“A woman has a right to an abortion.”

An organization called Liberal Like Christ says,

Goldwater was not always such a staunch separationist. Early in his controversial political career he supported tax breaks for private school tuition and a school prayer amendment. But the rise of the intolerant Religious Right caused him to rethink his views, a change that sparked admiration from Americans who disagreed with him on many other things.

When Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1981, some Religious Right leaders suspected she might be too moderate on abortion and other social concerns. Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell told the news media that “every good Christian should be concerned.” Replied Goldwater, “Every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell’s ass.”

That same year Senator Goldwater complained at length that:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’ ”
(1909-1998) US Senator (R-Arizona) Source: Congressional Record, September 16, 1981

The five-term U.S. senator from Arizona was equally unimpressed with TV preacher Pat Robertson. When Robertson sought the GOP nomination for president in 1988, Goldwater wasn’t about to say amen. “I believe in separation of church and state,” observed Goldwater. “Now, he doesn’t believe that . . . I just don’t think he should be running.”

Well by that time the GOP was well on its way to religious intolerance. I was long gone from its ranks by then and of course Goldwater was old and no longer a force in its top councils. Imagine adopting a position which our Founding Fathers had seen and thought so dangerous in Europe and elsewhere in the world! So sad.

It is worthwhile to cite more of his words of warning as they are so relevant today:

In 1994 he told The Los Angeles Times, “A lot of so-called conservatives don’t know what the word means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right.”

Goldwater, an Episcopalian, had theological differences with greedy TV preachers. “I look at these religious television shows,” he said, “and they are raising big money on God. One million, three million, five million – they brag about it. I don’t believe in that. It’s not a very religious thing to do.”

But Goldwater was also deeply worried about the Religious Right’s long-term impact on his beloved GOP. “If they succeed in establishing religion as a basic Republican Party tenet,” he told U.S. News & World Report in 1994, “they could do us in.” In an interview with The Post that same year, Goldwater observed, “When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

But most importantly, Goldwater was deeply concerned about the Religious Right’s relentless war on the Constitution and basic American freedoms. In a Sept. 15, 1981 senate speech, Goldwater noted that Falwell’s Moral Majority, anti-abortion groups and other Religious Right outfits were sometimes referred to in the press as the “New Right” and the “New Conservatism.” Responded Goldwater, “Well, I’ve spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the ‘Old Conservatism.’ And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics. The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.”

Insisted Goldwater, “Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution. We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution. We treasure the freedoms that document protects. . . “By maintaining the separation of church and state,” he explained, “the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars . . . Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?”

Goldwater concluded with a warning to the American people. “The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others,” {he said,} “unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives. . . We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn’t stop now” {he insisted}. “To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.”
from CHURCH & STATE July / August 1998

So here we are in 2013. One party, the Republicans, virtually the slaves of the evangelicals. It is my view that the loss of that moderate majority of Americans has killed this party’s chance to attract a huge number of us back unless they change their party platform and their religious intolerance.

And yet, here we are in a fiscal mess, unemployment way too high and the other major Party can’t wait to open our borders for more and more immigrants, legal and illegal and the badly cowed Republicans are thinking they have an exclusively Mexican or Hispanic problem.

Ok, perhaps we can postulate that the voting by Hispanics for Democrats is driven by its racial tribalism, but it could well be true that the vast numbers of American citizens who once were Republicans and now are Independent are deeply against the anti choice/family planning dictums of the evangelicals.

Also, let’s note that the mostly religiously inclined African Americans who traditionally vote heavily for Democrats (particularly with a ½ African American President in the White House) will hardly see the importing of huge numbers of aliens as benefitting their welfare. Here in DC, the unemployment rate among young African Americans is nearing 40%!!

It would appear to me that most Americans of both parties have strong reasons to look up and realize that the present political pressure for another failed amnesty, called Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) has no good in it for them or any American citizen of any race.

So let’s offer both parties advice which should ring true in the ears of most thinking Independents and everyone else.

Republicans, please stop your invasion of our bedrooms with your evil, outdated, dangerous views on choice and family planning.

Democrats, please stop trying to play tribalism for votes by jamming CIR down the gullets of Americans who are sick and tired of the over supply of aliens both legal and illegal.

Is either party playing its politics for the good of us average citizens? That is not presently obvious!

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00MA40TVE
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