Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Legal Right "Experts" and Religious Tolerance in California.

There it is again, that "leading scholar" title, bestowed on yet another Religious Right figure who has established their credibility not among peers but among like-minded religious constituents - in other words, in an unquestioning and politically motivated vacuum.

This time the subject is one David Barton, cited as an expert source by a Religious Right organization called Wallbuilders, in a California case that will examine the legality of denying a Wiccan priest employment in a local prison because of his faith. Texas Freedom Network describes Barton:

WallBuilder’s argument is nonsense, of course, but Barton should know something about “revisionist history” — it’s something he regularly promotes. The WallBuilders brief touts Barton as “a recognized authority” and “leading scholar” in American history and government because of his “vast collection of rare, primary documents.” But simply collecting artifacts doesn’t make someone a “historian” and certainly not a “leading scholar.” Barton, in fact, has no degree or formal training in either American history or government. His bachelor’s degree is in Christian education from Oral Roberts University. He doesn’t publish peer-reviewed research in social science journals, and his books are largely self-published political tracts. Rather than a “leading scholar,” Barton is a smooth-talking propagandist who distorts history in pursuit of a radical political agenda.

Legitimate expertise is getting flimsier by the decade! But the rise of the "Legal Right," a shadow field of law, often funded and created by Religious Right organizations such as Focus on the Family, mirrors exactly the rise over the past few decades of the Medical Right. In a recent article for the Journal of Legal Medicine on opposition to end of life care and patients' rights, lawyer Kathryn Tucker describes the Medical Right thusly:

Medical Right organizations promote medical opinion reflecting fundamentalist beliefs. Whether offshoots of professional associations, single-issue groups, multi-issue family values organizations, advocacy groups, or bioethics policy organizations, the various parts of the Medical Right are linked. They intersect with the Religious Right policy organizations and, in many cases, the same Religious Right funders.

As a result, scientific, health, and medical issues are increasingly being blurred and distorted by conservative religious views in the area of end-of-life care. The Medical Right relies upon a limited number of experts to give the impression that it has a legitimate body of medical fact behind its opinions. Through the repetition of its views, the Medical Right has established an alternative body of supposed medical fact that provides the larger Religious Right community with the arguments it needs to pass laws approved by the Religious Right, oppose laws with which it disapproves, and otherwise enact its positions into public policy.

Substitute "Legal Right" for "Medical Right" and you've got a description of the very organizations - in some cases, organizations that work on health care and legal issues simultaneously - that are responsible for the recent rise of "separation of church and state" deniers, "family values" fanatics, and the likes of David Barton: The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF); Americans United for Life (AUL); National Right to Life Committee; The American Center for Law and Justice, Family Research Council. The list goes on and on.

Back to the California case, Texas Freedom Network concludes:

...the WallBuilders brief uses Barton’s trumped-up credentials to justify wading into the case. After that, it’s all about promoting a particular ideological agenda, not real history. In short, the brief is a long-winded justification for allowing — in fact, encouraging — government to engage in religious discrimination.

“(T)he Founders did not intend the Religion Clauses [of the Constitution] to protect paganism and witchcraft,” the brief argues. In fact, the brief says the two can’t even be considered religions under the Constitution. Then WallBuilders goes even further, arguing that the Founders really intended only to protect freedom for monotheistic religions (such as, of course, Christianity). In Barton’s America, the Constitution affords no such protections to followers of polytheistic religions.

WallBuilders also argues that atheists shouldn’t be equal under the Constitution either:

“It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office. This is so because, if one does not believe in God and in an eternal state of punishment or reward, one has no reason to fear that punishment and thus, the theory goes, will be more likely to engage in immoral or unethical behavior, to the determent of one’s fellow citizens and of society.”

Got that? The guy the Texas State Board of Education put on a panel of “experts” helping revise social studies curriculum standards for public schools runs an organization that argues the Constitution essentially creates two kinds of American citizens: those who believe in approved religions and those who don’t. And government may then discriminate against the latter.

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Blogger Doug Indeap said...

Everything Barton says should be taken with a grain of salt. As revealed by Chris Rodda's meticulous analysis, zealotry more than fact shapes his work, which is riddled with shoddy scholarship and downright dishonesty. See Chris Rodda, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History (2006) and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/glenn-becks-new-bff----da_b_458515.html

February 15, 2010 at 7:26 PM  

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