Cultural critic decries a ‘secularist witch hunt’

It is puzzling that a respected major publisher would put its name on this piece of paranoia-producing propaganda.

By Edd Doerr | 22 June 2016
Americans for Religious Liberty journal, Voice of Reason

Traditional believers are feeling increasingly squeezed out of the public square.

It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, by Mary Eberstadt. HarperCollins, 2016, 158 pp, $25.99. A review by Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty.

The theme of this book is the endlessly repeated mantra that vast hordes of ill-defined, largely unidentified “secularist progressives” are virulently attacking the shrinking numbers of Christian believers. How? By allegedly seeking to destroy faith-based institutions, by trying to end homeschooling, by threatening the livelihoods of believers, by demonizing “wrong” opinions on birth control and abortion, by “interfering with religious education.”

Totally unmentioned are the huge wins that the Religious Right, a term not used in the book, have scored in recent years, such as: the diversion of billions of dollars in public funds to faith-based private schools through vouchers and tax credits, despite 50 years of referenda and polls showing strong majority opposition; the growing swarm of legal impediments to reproductive choice and women’s freedom of conscience enacted by Congress and state legislatures; the diversion of federal and state public funds to faith-based charities and institutions that practice various forms of discrimination in hiring and serving clients; the years of bombings of family planning clinics and murder of clinic personnel. These are the elephants crowded into the room that the author willfully ignores.

What the author terms attacks on faith-based institutions are actually efforts to end discriminatory policies exercised by organizations receiving massive amounts of public dollars paid by qualified people who are the victims of discrimination in hiring and aiding. The alleged attacks on homeschooling are really efforts to see that vulnerable children are taught by people qualified to teach.

The serious omissions, surely intentional, mean that this sorry book, this newly bottled old whine, is apparently meant to divert attention from the very real threats to religious freedom, rights of conscience and church-state separation posed by the clericalist, authoritarian Religious Right rooted in the more conservative sectors of the US Catholic and Protestant traditions. The very real threats to religious freedom are the compelling of all taxpayers to support religious institutions they would not support voluntarily and the drives to have government impose sectarian values on everyone. We live in a religiously diverse country in which every person is free to follow his or her own religion or lifestance as long as that does not interfere with anyone else’s equal rights. Kids can pray in school, people may join and support the religion of their choice, no one is required to use a contraceptive or have an abortion against her will, and churches have long enjoyed exemption from taxation.

It is puzzling that a respected major publisher would put its name on this piece of paranoia-producing propaganda.

Edd Doerr was president of the American Humanist Association from 1995 to 2003, serving previously as vice-president and board chair under Isaac Asimov from 1985 to 1991. He has been executive director and then president of Americans for Religious Liberty since 1982. A former teacher of history and Spanish, he is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of twenty books, mostly on religious liberty and reproductive rights. He served on the governing body of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice from 1973 until 2004 and on the boards of NARAL, the ACLU of Maryland, and the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty. More than 3,000 of his articles, columns, reviews, and letters have been published in The Humanist and many other publications. For over ten years he has been writing a column in the journal Free Inquiry from the Council for Secular Humanism.

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  1. I'm glad to see this book criticized and I hope the publishing company won't repeat this grave mistake. I'm always startled by the fact that religious education is seen as a right while it is financed by tax money in almost every instance..


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