Magazine article The American Prospect

The Religious Wars

Magazine article The American Prospect

The Religious Wars

Article excerpt

The outcome of the 2004 presidential election will depend partly on what happens in Iraq and to the U.S. economy between now and election day. But it will also turn on the religious wars--the intensifying battles over gay marriage, abortion, the use. of human embryos for stem-cell research and religion in our public schools--fueled by evangelical Protestants, the ground troops of the Republican Party. The conventional wisdom is that these issues are sure winners for the right. But Democrats can hold their own in these wars--if they respond vigorously to the coming assault.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning Texas' anti-sodomy law, evangelicals have grown louder. When and if the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declares that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, evangelicals are ready to make it a major issue during the upcoming presidential campaign. Their recent legislative victory over "partial-birth" abortions has emboldened them to seek additional ways to erode Roe v. Wade. They're mounting an all-out offensive for Senate confirmation of people like Alabama's attorney general, William Pryor-who called Roe "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history"--to the federal courts. And they want to put religion back into the public schools.

Democrats should call all this for what it is:a clear and present danger to religious liberty in America. For more than 300 years the liberal tradition has sought to free people from the tyranny of religious doctrines that would otherwise be imposed on them. Today's evangelical right detests that tradition and seeks nothing short of a state-sponsored religion. But maintaining the separation of church and state is a necessary precondition of liberty.

Public opinion sides with the Democrats. Even though a slim majority continues to oppose gay marriage, polls show that most Americans believe that homosexual relationships between consenting adults should be legal, that the choice of whether to have an abortion should be up to a woman and her doctor, that stem-cell research should be allowed and that religion should stay out of the public schools. But unless Democrats focus the public's attention on the larger ongoing assault on religious liberty, the evangelical right will whittle away these freedoms. …

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