This is point of inquiry for Friday, October 5th, 2007.
Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiries, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason and science and secular values and public affairs. Before we get to this week’s guest, I want to mention a couple of things. One, I personally appeal to listeners to point of inquiry here. You’re getting a show that he has seemed to be enjoying each week. Well, consider supporting a college student to attend the upcoming conference in New York City. The secular society and its enemies with some of the most distinguished presenters we’ve had at any conference in years, you could find out how to support one of our college student members of the Center for Inquiry on Campus, our campus outreach program, through the Web site, Campus Freethought dot org. More information about the upcoming conference, in case you’d like to attend it yourself, can be found at Center for Inquiry. Dot net slash secular society. And now before we get to this week’s guest, Alan Dershowitz, to talk about his book, Blasphemy. Here is a short word about church state separation in the schools in Ontario. By the new executive director of CFI Ontario, Justin Trottier.
This summer, for the first time in over 20 years, Ontario’s publicly funded denominational Roman Catholic separate school board has come under much deserving fire. And the funding of religious schools, Catholic and otherwise, is considered the election issue of our 2007 provincial election. It is an embarrassment that Canada attributed a reputation for being squeaky clean on the world stage, should have been twice censured by the United Nations for violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for discriminatory public funding of Catholic schools. This has led as an example to the dismissal by an Iranian envoy of a Canadian sponsored U.N. resolution concerning human rights violations in Iran. Pathetically, the covenant that we are violating is the same document used as a basis for our own 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms that charter our critical civil rights document, says not a word about Catholic privilege and instead accord’s equality before the law to all. To understand the current situation, we need to go back much further to the British North America Act of 1867, and the deal may create a much happier union of upper and lower Canada, whereby the minority religion, either province was guaranteed publicly funded religious schooling. Since then, the demographics have changed considerably in Canada and the Partizan School Board, Nigeria has become the secular public school board. While in Quebec, the faith based public schooling infrastructure was a decade ago dismantled and rebuilt along language grounds. Some who have no trouble understanding the problems with the current system recommend going the direction of funding any and all faiths that wish to create a school board. The Conservative Party, beating opponents of the government, wishes to do just that to segment our society along religious grounds. This is a pseudo solution. It would double the 500 million dollars currently wasted by having two school systems. It would also force our government to choose which faith does or funding and which do not, or to define a religion. At its core, the issue is very much about the definition of multiculturalism. Well, multiculturalism mean heaping privilege upon every religious group it demands it. Will it mean slicing and dicing our society along religious, ethnic and any other grounds? We can come up with? Will it mean creating infrastructure where people of all backgrounds can live, work and play together? We’re all viewpoints can come together in a single place so we can learn how to compromise by being immersed in a diversity of ideas. And this is very much an international issue with repercussions throughout the Western world. As with Ontario’s brush with Sharia law. Two years ago, the world is watching how this religious schools issue plays out in our country. Canada being somewhat intermediary between the U.S. and Europe as far as politics and relevant demographics is concerned. Makes for an interesting testing ground. But we’ve already witnessed the results of such experiments in religious segregation elsewhere. In addition to breeding mistrust from your isolation, extremist ideologies may flourish in religious education centers throughout the world. Though half a world apart. Consider the ongoing situation in Northern Ireland or in Pakistan, where this summer, as students from the Lal Masjid madrassa siege, the associated mosque leading to a violent standoff with the government, faith school advocates claim that such extremism will be decreased by government oversight. But I question the ability of the government to supervise that number of classrooms. Such concerns about religious extremism in schools may still seem esoteric to many Ontarians or others in the West. But it was not long ago that bombings on the streets of London would have been inconceivable. Yet the surreal images of exploded cars on English streets should serve as a warning to us to prevent the segregation of our children. The fertile soil for seeds of religious intolerance. Those may be worst case scenarios, but they should be borne in mind as we’re seeing the first seeds of this development throughout the Western world, where in religious schools, selection and curricula are almost entirely in the hands of the religious authorities. Look in detail at this current situation. England, a passage of the May twenty third issue of the Times of London entitled Sneaky, Unfair, Divisive. Welcome to Church Schools explains their admission criteria are opaque, manipulated and blatantly unfair. When schools are officially banned from selection on the grounds of race, color, ability or parental background, the system sanction selection on the entirely random basis if whether a child was born to a practicing Christian family. Of course, this is nothing new in Ontario, where a publicly funded Catholic schools have an absolute right to deny teaching positions to non Catholics or Catholics whose faith portfolio is not up to snuff and with a record of baptism, must accompany the application for a pupil to attend primary schools. Also, consider the power to set curricula held by religious public schools in England, Holland and elsewhere. Here in Ontario, Conservative leader John Tory has gone on record stating his approval of the teaching of creationism in public schools in Ontario, stating that schools could teach the fact to the children that there are other theories that people have out there and that it’s still called the theory of evolution. Though he quickly clarified that religious schools would also have to teach the approved provincial curricula. He failed to state what limits might be placed on religious school curricula with homophobic, anti-Semitic or bigoted religious beliefs. Be fair game. These sorts of concerns that young Hirsi Ali, the famous Somalian born Dutch politician to state in November 2000. Third, that no religious school should receive government funding addressing the situation in the United Kingdom. She went on to say Britain is sleepwalking into a society that could be ruled by Sharia law within decades unless Islamic schools are shut down and young Muslims are instead made to integrate and accept Western liberal values. Consider the situation with Muslim schools discretionary powers over curricula in the US. A few years back, the New York Daily News reported that textbooks widely used in New York’s Islamic schools contain passages that are blatantly anti-Semitic, condemning Jews as a people. I suppose the Muslim school board could state these claims to be part of their religion or cultural beliefs and hence immune to public oversight. But are those sorts of allowances with the future of multiculturalism? Poults? The Center for Inquiry Ontario, whose mission is to advance free and unfettered inquiry in all areas, has a different idea. We are concerned that by balkanizing our school system along religious lines, be they Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, even atheist or any other, and limiting admission of pupils and educators to those of a common worldview. We effectively stifle a student’s ability to inquire and express themselves completely openly, as would be possible in a public school where pupils and teachers of all backgrounds and points of view come together, and where students have the fullest range of ideas. We believe the only fair, multicultural and economic solution before us in Ontario is to merge our public, secular and public Catholic boards into one strong secular school system where all points of view are expressible. The Center for Inquiry Ontario, only half a year old, has played an important part in this saga as it was under our roof this past May at the one school system network composed of a variety of religious civil rights and secular humanist advocacy organizations, was forged. Secular Aspey, the atheist or religious coming together because of shared humanistic values is a trend we are developing that will prove fruitful beyond this issue. We invite others from the international community to visit w w w dot one S.S. and Dorji to learn more and to contact Toronto at Center for Inquiry dot net. If interested in supporting this initiative in some way. Thank you.
The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think can do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to free inquiry today. One year, six controversial issues for 1995. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six or visit us on the Web at Secular Humanism, Dawg.
I’m pleased to have Alan Dershowitz on point of inquiry. He’s the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School. He’s one of the country’s foremost lawyers and he’s a distinguished defender of civil liberties, church, state, separation, secularism. His many books include The New York Times bestsellers, The Case for Israel and Hutzpah, as well as The Vanishing American Jew, Why Terrorism Works and America on Trial. He’s written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times Free Inquiry Magazine and many other newspapers and periodicals. His new book is Blasphemy How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Well, thank you so much. I’m a big fan of Point of inquiry and I’m looking forward to intelligent conversation.
Professor, I first became aware of your your longtime defense of church state separation, secularism, when one to CFI supporters sponsored bringing you to Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. You remember that debate with Alan Keyes?
Oh, I remember it very well. It was a lot of fun. It was a somewhat hostile audience there because it’s kind of in the buckle of the Bible Belt in some respects. But the national audience that it’s being replayed to on C-SPAN has given me very good feedback on it. I enjoyed it very much.
You know, that’s when I first kind of became aware of your longtime defense of the issues that we hold dear at the Center for Inquiry. Your new book makes some some similar claims that debate was really does religion offer solutions to the problems of the 21st century or something like that? And and you were avowedly skeptical of religion. So you’re with us on those issues. Your new book is unique in that you’re trying not just to stick it to religion, but you’re setting the record straight on American history.
Well, first of all, I don’t try to stick to religion. My mother is a deeply, deeply religious person, and 94 religion serves her very, very well. I would never say that religion doesn’t serve some purposes in our society. I just think that that’s a matter of choice for individuals. And the government should take no position, as Thomas Jefferson said many years ago. I couldn’t care less, he said. If a person believes in many gods or no God, he doesn’t pick my pocket. And Jefferson is kind of my hero on the issue of separation of church and state. He was a man who believed in God. He hoped to be in heaven, but he didn’t believe in Christianity or the Judeo Christian Bible or any formal organized religion. He was a Buddhist. And so I would never want to stick to religion. My book, Blasphemy, in my book that’s coming out soon, finding Jefferson are not like Dawkins books or Hitchens books. They’re not books against religion. They’re books against state and religion, merging their books much more in favor of separation of church and state, both the benefits of the church and for the benefits of the state, and most importantly, the benefits of each individual citizen who must be free to live one’s life and decide one’s way of looking at life without any thumb being put on the scale by the government.
Let’s talk about the Declaration of Independence. It explicitly mentions God. The founders mostly believed in God. You mentioned Jefferson in the book is you talk about how he’s a deist. This is well known among some of our listeners, maybe. So if the declaration mentions God and the founders were religious in their way, isn’t the declaration foundational to our understanding that this nation was in fact always intended to be a Christian nation? Some members of the Supreme Court have even argued along these lines.
Well, they’re just dead wrong. Historically, the debate back at the time of the declaration was not between atheists and agnostics, on the one hand, and people who believed in God. Everybody believed in God. Thomas Paine, who is veering with the anti Christian, believed in God. The word agnosticism hadn’t even been invented. The big issue that divided society in those days was whether you believe in a god of nature or a God of the Bible. And the declaration clearly comes down on the side of nature’s God. In fact, that’s a phrase that’s used nature’s God create a providence. There’s never a reference to the God of the Bible, the god of hosts. Jesus is the Messiah. Jefferson believed in God, didn’t believe in Christianity and didn’t believe in the Judeo Christian tradition. Didn’t much like the Ten Commandments, the Old Testament, the New Testament written by unlettered people. He didn’t like Paul. He said Paul turned to religion by Jesus into a religion about Jesus. He didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. Virgin birth or any of what he regarded as the Roman myths and the Greek myths that have been adapted by Christianity after the death of Jesus. So the God of the Constitution, the declaration constitution, of course, has no God. The God of the Declaration is exactly the opposite from the Judeo-Christian God is nature’s God. He’s a God for whom. Rosa was excommunicated from Judaism for believing in. So clearly it’s the most unchristian of documents and the Constitution that comes from years later is the first constitution in history ever, not to mention God and not to mention any particular religion. It was called the godless constitution.
Is it fair to say that the God of the Declaration of Independence, I mean, the God mentions in the Declaration of Independence is if not the Christian God, at least the God of intelligent design?
Well, the interesting thing that’s very interesting, because Jefferson is a believer in intelligent design. So was Spinoza. That was the liberal position back in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. Intelligent design was really nature’s God. You can see the work of God through his product, through human beings, through beautiful mountains, through the sun, through the moon. Now, they didn’t think of it as intelligent design, but they basically Jefferson saw the proof God through nature. He didn’t understand because, you know, he was pretty primitive scientifically. The rules of randomness or the rules of evolution for him. Nature was the best proof of the existence of God. But he took nature much too far. You know, he had very limited exposure to African-Americans. And as a result of that exposure, he thought they were inherently less intelligent. He had very limited exposure to brilliant women of great insight. He did the Abigail Adams. But as the result of that, he thought women were unsuited to govern. He had very limited, limited exposure, if any, to openly gay people. And he thought that homosexuals should be imprisoned if not executed. So, you know, he was wrong about a great many things based on experience. And I think he was wrong about intelligent design. But, of course, that forms no part of constitutional history. That’s just the opinion of one person who happened to be a founder. But nature’s God in the declaration is an important part of our foundation, and it’s very explicitly not the God of the Bible.
I want to get back to the Christian nation myth. If it’s not in the Constitution. I want to talk about how these Christian activists in the U.S. have been so successful at fostering this widespread belief that society, you know, is a Christian nation.
Well, they confuse anthropology and law and who Roger Williams, who even a hundred years before the declaration, said no country can be a Christian country. It can have Christians in it, but it can’t be a Christian country. Being a Christian is an individual thing. And course, Roger Williams was the founder of Separation of Church and State. That made a great deal of sense for for him. But it is a myth and it’s perpetrated by people like Senator McCain who say, as he did fairly recently, that the Constitution is a Christian document and that America was founded on Christian principles. America was founded by Christians, many of them with dissonance. Many of the reasons they came to America was to escape the oppression of the established Anglican Church or the established churches all over Europe. In fact, Jefferson, when he writes his kind of last letter on the 15th anniversary of the declaration, talks about it as something that he intended to freeish from monkish ignorance. Do you think that was about monkish ignorance was to him the domination of the Catholic Church in Europe. Jefferson was very anti Catholic, not anti Catholics as individuals, but inside the Vatican at Catholic Church A. that the institution of Pope A.I., the kind of central city of religion and state. And he, as was Adams and in their letters, they both wished that swarms of Jesuits should never be allowed in our shores. But they understood the First Amendment required that. It’s interesting when you hear real jerks like you’ll pardon me, Pat Buchanan, say this is a Christian country. He doesn’t realize he’s stabbing himself in the heart. If it was a Christian country, it was an anti Catholic Protestant country. It certainly was not a Christian country in which Christianity was broadly defined to include Catholicism. Catholicism was an alien theocracy and theology for the founding fathers. And so you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say it’s a Christian country and also a Catholic country. If it’s a Christian country, which it’s not. It was a Protestant Christian country.
Why do you think there’s such bad history among the religious political activists, such an inability to accept the real history of our nation’s founding? And what I’m really asking is, do you think that they that they really believed the bad history? I mean, are they just misreading history or are they do they really know the history? But they’re using these stories, you know, to advance their own political aims.
Well, some of each. There are people who clearly know history and are just lying, just lying, and they couldn’t pass a lie detector and they’d be indicted for perjury if they swore under oath that this was the history. They know better. And then there are the ignoramuses who know little about history as they do about evolution. And they’re trying. You know, they always have it smirky smile on their face. We know better than you do. And they quote the founding fathers statements all out of context. You go on Web sites and you can see all these things or how all the founding fathers believed in Jesus and believed in God and believed in the Bible. And they’re all you the misquotes or quoted out of context. But when people go to Web sites and pick these quotes up all the time and try to teach them in school, we have this now this declaration curriculum, which is the biggest crock of a historical nonsense being promoted by Alan Keyes and others, which totally distorts history. Now, Keyes knows better, but some of the others don’t know better. But they’re both wrong. It’s just not true historically.
You remind us that John Adams himself said that this is in no way a Christian nation.
Not only did President Adams say it, but the Senate confirmed unanimously when they endorsed the treaty with Barbary Coast. And that was just a few years after the constitution, the declaration. And he was very, very clear. Remember, some of the senators were among the original signers of the declaration, the Constitution, that they knew what they were talking about. And that’s the most definitive statement in our document of history with the Treaty of 1897, which says essentially, we are in no way a Christian country. And how can anybody reading history say, yes, we were? What were they wrong? The Senate was unanimously wrong. President Adams was unanimously was wrong. How do you explain that piece of history now? There was always tension. There were those like Patrick Henry, who wanted us to be a Christian country. But he lost those debates. And, you know, Jefferson and Madison wrote their famous bill for religious freedom. One of the four things Jefferson wanted to be remembered for, he didn’t even want to be remembered for being president United States. He wanted to be remembered for writing the declaration for establishing the first secular college in the United States, the University of Virginia, for writing, you know, the bill that not only protected everybody’s religious freedom, but the right of people not to be religious. It was the first law ever protecting the rights of atheists, which is remarkable. And heathens and and everybody else. Remember, in those days, there were statutes which made you ineligible to serve in office unless you believed in Jesus and wouldn’t let you take an oath if you were a Mohammed in a Jew or a heathen. And Jefferson and Madison clearly were opposed to that and were opposed to established churches anywhere in the state. Wrote a letter congratulating one of the states. I think it was Connecticut which just established the church. And he voted to disestablish the Anglican Church in Virginia.
I’d like to let our listeners know that you can purchase blasphemy. How the religious right is hijacking the Declaration of Independence through our Web site. Point of inquiry, dawg. Professor Dershowitz, I want to switch gears and ask you about church state separation when it comes to a topic many people haven’t argued as a church state issue, and that’s gay rights. Here’s the hypothetical. If legislators argue that, number one, the U.S. is a Christian nation, just look at the Declaration of Independence and they say that they oppose gay marriage or gay rights as a result, that their opposition to gay rights is based on their personal religious beliefs. Is that a church state separation issue? I mean, if religion is supposed to stay out of the government?
Very much so. And let me give you my position on it, which is controversial with both sides. I agree with the Christian right that marriage is a holy sacrament, but so circumcision and baptism. And we wouldn’t want the state circumcising the baptizing. And I don’t think the state should be in the marriage business. I am prepared to give the religious right marriage. Let them have all marriages. Nobody should be given a marriage by the state. The state should perform only civil unions. That’s it. Civil unions, which impose more legal obligations that are enforceable, etc.. And if you want to get married, if you want to enter into the holy sacrament of marriage, find a church, synagogue or mosque that will marry you. And if you’re, you know, for example, a Jewish man who wants to marry a non Jewish woman, don’t go to an Orthodox rabbi and expect to be married. The state can’t make an Orthodox rabbi marry you if you’re marrying a non Jew because that’s in violation of Orthodox Jewish law, unless the woman converts. And if you’re a gay man or want to marry another man, don’t try to find a traditional Catholic priest to do it. You have to find somebody else. And if you’re happy not to be married at all, as I think many people would be happy not to be married. You just don’t get a marriage, you get a certificate that gives you all the same rights. And by the way, since only religion marries and not the state, you get no additional rights. You get married. Nothing changes. It’s just like getting baptized or just like getting circumcised. That, to me, is the proper relation between church and state on the issue of marriage and that we gays are treated absolutely equally. They get civil unions. So do the rest of us get civil unions. And then if we want to get married, to get married, if they want to get married, they can find a church, they’ll marry them. It won’t be one of the traditional churches.
Perhaps most people in Europe have civil unions, not marriages, gay or straight. As a gay man, I’ll probably rile up some of my gay activist friends. But I agree with you completely that civil unions is the direction to go, not a gay marriage is getting it somewhat at times.
You mentioned Europe in Israel, which is having a lot of problems with lack of separation between church and state on issues of marriage, because for Jews at least, marriage is given over to the rabbit. The Orthodox remnant, which is a terrible mistake. And a lot of Jews, just whether they’re heterosexual or don’t want to get married, they don’t want rabbis interfering in their lives. The secular people, so they just live together or they go to Cyprus and get married and come back. But they will not submit their lives to the control of the Orthodox or Abbington. And I understand that fully and completely.
I can’t finish up without talking a little about the state of Israel with you. Here you are, a staunch defender of church state separation in the U.S., but you’re also a staunch defender of the nation of Israel. Doesn’t that put you kind of in the same camp as these religious right ideologues who support Israel for theological reasons, their eschatology, their theories of End-Time prophecies before Jesus Christ returns?
No, I support Israel for completely different reasons. I support Israel because the Jews have a right to have a country just like the French have a right to have a country and the Chinese have a right to have a country. In fact, if anything, the Jews need a country more than any other country in the world because they were so discriminated against. Six million of them killed because other countries wouldn’t take them in. And Jews have a right to have one country. Zionism was a secular discipline. Theodor Hertzel, the founder of Zionism, had never been in a synagogue. He was a complete atheist. David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, was an atheist. I don’t think there’s been a religious prime minister of Israel since the beginning of time. In fact, Israel has separation of church and state except essentially for Jews, because the Religious Services Judaism is defined as Orthodox Judaism. So the only people discriminated against in Israel really are conservative Jews, reform Jews and secular Jews. And though I’m a supporter of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state to defend itself, I’m a strong opponent of the mixture of religion and state, even to the extent that exists in Israel. I helped with a lawsuit a few years ago brought against that. And just because you support a country that’s put America, too. And I opposed many aspects of American life and law. And I support Israel, but I oppose many aspects. I also oppose the settlements in Israel and favor a two state solution. So I don’t have the same views as Christian evangelicals have toward Israel.
Jim Underdown you favor a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict?
Yes, I do. And I favor the end of the occupation, which I have favorite since 1970. So I’m on the peace side there. And I don’t agree with the Christian right on these issues. I wanted Israel to return to Gaza. And I favored the peace plan of 2000 2001, which would have resulted in 97 percent of the West Bank being returned with two states capital of Palestinian state in Jerusalem. And there’s no inconsistency between being a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist and to defend its citizens against acts of terrorism and also believing strongly in in Palestinian rights. I find myself as pro-Israel and pro Palestinian. And I see no inconsistency.
Last question, Professor Dershowitz. I want to talk to you about the future. Hasn’t the religious right been reduced in its impact in recent years? I mean, the question is, what’s left for secularists to do when the Christian Coalition has folded, Jerry Falwell has passed away. Republican parties kind of been exposed for doing the religious right.
I think we’re celebrating too early. You know, you’ll pardon the irony, but thank God the religious right is now much weaker than it was and will destroy themselves if they, in fact, nominate a third party candidate because they don’t like Rudy Giuliani’s pro-choice or semi pro-choice views. And I think the religious right overplayed its hand, by the way. That’s true in many, many countries. When in the West Bank, in Palestine, the Palestinian Authority set up morality police to arrest people for not fast. On Ramadan, they overplayed their hands when the religious right in Israel tried to close soccer stadiums on on Shabbat, on the Jewish Sabbath. They overplayed their hand. The religious right, because they’re extremists for the most part. And they think they have, you know, a direct word from God will often overplay their hand. And the pendulum swings and it swings and wide arcs. And I think the religious right has never been weaker, at least than in modern times. And they’re very smart and they’re very well financed. And we can’t ever heave a sigh of relief and say the struggle for justice has been won. The struggle for justice. The struggle for separation of church and state never stays one. Which is why everybody who believes in it has to work tirelessly to keep that wall of separation high and strong.
Thank you very much for joining me on Point of Inquiry, Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Thank you so much for such good questions.
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Point of inquiries produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Kirk’s point of inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael.
Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe.