Dubious Declaration: Colson's 'Manhattan' Coalition Longs for Theocratic Past

Article excerpt

There was a time in America--and it really wasn't that long ago--when powerful religious groups worked in conjunction with government officials to impose narrow theological precepts on everyone.

As recently as the early 1960s, it was difficult for even married couples to access artificial contraception in some states, and books, movies and plays were often subjected to "screening" by censorship boards dominated by clerics. Children in public schools were often compelled to take part in prayer, Bible reading and other religious activities.

Activism by concerned citizens and court rulings put a stop to much of this. Most Americans would agree that is a good thing.

But a well-organized and aggressive sectarian coterie still longs for the old days. This faction surfaced recently with the release of the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto endorsed by various Roman Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical Christian figures (including many Religious Right leaders).

The Declaration attacks legal abortion, blasts same-sex marriage and insists that religious conservatives should be broadly exempt from certain laws and regulations on the grounds of "conscience."

The Declaration's backers made a bit of a splash in the media by vowing to engage in civil disobedience if laws they don't like are imposed on them. It was good bluster for the television cameras, but the threat is almost certainly a hollow one. No government official has seriously proposed that houses of worship should be forced to pay for abortions or perform same-sex marriages; the First Amendment would block any attempt to try it. …