What sort of person would use a tragedy like the massacre in Newtown, Conn., as an excuse to advance an extreme, theocratic agenda?
If you guessed William J. Murray, you’re correct.
Murray, who heads the Religious Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C., doesn’t blame Adam Lanza for taking the lives of his own mother and 26 others, including 20 children. Instead, the Religious Right activist said it’s lack of school-sponsored prayer that led to the tragedy.
“In the vast majority of America’s public schools, the authority of God has been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government,” he said. “Morals? Without the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in Newtown.”
Murray is the son of the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who brought one of the cases that spurred the U.S. Supreme Court to get government out of the school prayer business. But Murray, a convert to evangelical Christianity, isn’t a big fan of the U.S. Supreme Court cases (Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Shempp) that barred coercive prayer from the classroom in the 1960s and, in his mind, are to be blamed for all evil in the United States. (Never mind that deaths from assault have actually decreased substantially in America since they peaked in the late 1970s.)
Murray doesn’t understand that those court cases did absolutely nothing to restrict or undermine morality; they merely gave parents the right to ensure that they could teach their children what religion, if any, they should observe. Those rulings also made it so no child would feel like an outsider if he or she doesn’t believe in a majority faith.
But people like Murray are against true religious freedom and, sadly, he’s far from the only one. A shrill screed posted on American Vision’s website by Gary DeMar blamed the teaching of evolution for violence in our society.
“The problem is, our current culture – through the educational system – is telling young people that they are animals, in some cases, less than animals,” DeMar said. “‘So genetically we are no different (really) from a worm, a bug, or a dandelion.’ If taught long enough, there will be some people who will begin to believe it and act accordingly with no regard for what we regard as a moral worldview.”
That is just all kinds of wrong, which is to be expected from a Dominionist group that envisions an America “where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society.” (By that, DeMar and Company mean, of course, their version of Christianity and their “worldview.”)
First, no one in the scientific or educational communities is saying that humans are “no different” genetically from worms, bugs or dandelions simply because all species share a common origin. Second, no one is saying that humans aren’t special or valuable just because we are primates who are related to the rest of life on Earth.
More importantly, there is no reason someone who accepts evolution can’t believe that human life is sacred. No one needs religion to tell them that.
While most people are focusing on mourning the tragedy, Murray is scheduled to share his deplorable views on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s radio show today.
Huckabee really stepped in it last week when he blamed the shooting on church-state separation. (Huckabee has since walked back his statements somewhat, saying: “I would never say that simply taking prayer and Bible reading from our institutions or silencing Christmas carols is the direct cause of a mass murder.” But he still blames “uninhibited self-expression and individualism” and the teaching of evolution for the massacre.)
My colleague Rob Boston skewered Huckabee appropriately on Saturday so there is no need for me to repeat why the Religious Right foghorn has no sense of decency.
We need real solutions to the problems of this country, and talking about more official prayers and less evolution in schools isn’t going to get us anywhere.
It is not for Americans United to say whether or not gun control or more spending on mental-health treatment is what America needs. Those are not our issues. It is for AU to say that ignoring the Constitution by merging church and state is most definitely not a solution.