Edward Tabash – Science, Secularism, and the 2008 Presidential Election

February 01, 2008

Edward Tabash is a constitutional and civil rights lawyer in Beverly Hills, California. Graduating magna cum laude from UCLA in 1973, he graduated from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles three years later and was admitted to the California Bar that same year. He has chaired the National Legal Committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State since 1995, and has argued and won before the California Supreme Court. He also sits as a part-time judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court system. He has successfully represented the scientific outlook and secular humanism in public debates against the leading Christian philosophers around the world. In addition to serving on the Board of the Center for Inquiry and chairing the Council for Secular Humanism’s First Amendment Task Force, he chairs the Center for Inquiry’s Los Angeles branch.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Edward Tabash explores issues of science and secularism relating to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. He surveys the stances of the candidates of both the Republican and Democratic parties as regards church-state separation, gay rights, abortion rights, global warming and other topics important to the pro-science secularist, regardless of his or her political leanings. Tabash also emphasizes the crucial importance of this election due to the Supreme Court appointments the next President will make.

Also in this episode Toni Van Pelt, CFI’s Director of Government Affairs, details ways listeners can get involved with CFI’s activities on Capitol Hill through its Office of Public Policy.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, February 1st, 2008. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiry is the radio show, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing science reason and secular values in public affairs. Before we get to my conversation with Eddie to Barsh about science, secularism and the 2008 presidential election in the United States, I have on the phone with me Tony Van Pelt. She’s CFI is director of government affairs, working out of our Office of Public Policy on Capitol Hill. Welcome back to a point of inquiry. Tony Van Pelt. 

Hi, D.J. Thank you for having me back. 

Tony, since we’re going to have Eddie to bash on shortly, I thought it made sense to bring you on beforehand so we could talk about what your what is CFI is doing in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill. You’re our director of government affairs. 

Yes. And it is a very exciting job here on Capitol Hill. 

Right. I was there a few months ago for your one year anniversary. And even when you’re not running around like a headless chicken, you’re running around like a headless chicken. Bad, bad metaphor. But the point is, you’re really, really busy. 

We are. And there’s a lot to be busy about on the Hill these days. 

So what exactly do you do on Capitol Hill? 

What CFI involved in what the Center for Inquiry is working on and this is really important is we are fighting charitable choice provisions. And I’m sure that folks are aware of this because of the president’s State of the Union address this week in which he was pushing faith based initiative and charitable choice. And this is really dangerous for for our country, for our democracy and for our Constitution. 

So how exactly do you fight charitable choice? You’re in coalition with a number of other organizations and you’re actually walking the halls of the Capitol, meeting with legislators and staffers and and kind of getting down to business. 

That’s right. And holding briefings that there there’s a really dangerous bill up. It’s called the Samsa Balance and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Reauthorization Bill. And that has been inserted provisions for charitable choice. And the definition of that is that would allow religious organizations that accept government money to run government funded programs such as substance abuse programs to hire and fire folks that volunteer or work in that program based on their religious affiliation only. So they would not have to have any credentials to help folks out. And it would completely undermine our civil rights in this country and completely under mine. Our separation of church and state First Amendment rights in our Constitution. Also, the way that they’re pushing this is that in the past, religious organizations have been allowed to accept government money to run these programs, but they were not allowed to discriminate. They had to set up a separate five or one, say three, a separate organization checkbook to put that money into. So they couldn’t mingled government money with church money. That’s been done away with with the way this current administration reads the law. Number one. Number two, the hiring and firing based on religious affiliation. So it would be something like saying no Jews need apply here, no secular humanist need apply here because we’re not going to hire you. People are being fired currently based on this, as a matter of fact. Or for instance, if a woman was pregnant and not married, she could be fired from her job because she didn’t fit into the moral code of that religion. So she could still be off their religion. They could decide that she wasn’t worthy. 

So CFI is not an atheist lobby. It’s not on Capitol Hill pushing Athie ism. But you’re pushing for secularism, especially when it comes to these extremist religious views being brought to bear on public policy. 

And not only that, but we are defending the democracy and we’re defending our Constitution. And that is as important to us as all the other things that we do. And we also work, of course, to promote and advance science, to advance science. 

What do you mean by that? How do you advance science? The scientific outlook on Capitol Hill? 

What we’re doing is we’re asking our congressional members to base law and policy on science, the scientific method, empirical evidence where possible as oppose to space. 

So evidence as opposed to dogma as opposed to ideology or faith. Socrates said somewhere this great line that decisions based on groundless knowledge, i.e. ideology or faith, can’t do anything but go wrong. 

You’re out to stop those decisions from going wrong by basing them instead on the evidence. 

That’s right. And then the other thing is the distortion of science. We’re working diligently on restoring integrity and science as it’s reported out by the administration. They’re not only perverting scientific reports, actually, just waiting out segments that don’t match their political ideology, but they’re also withholding and blocking important scientific data from reaching the. 

Public, how can people get involved with what you were doing, what with what CFI is doing through our Office of Public Policy on Capitol Hill? 

Well, there are a number of things that people can do. Number one, and this is important is they can become a friend at the center. What is important to legislators are two things. One is money. And the second thing is votes and votes in the end are the most important thing. And so if we can count our membership as one of their voters, that’s really important. In the more numbers we have, the more likely they are to listen. Number two, you can sign up. You can go to the Web to center for inquiry dot net and you’ll notice in the upper right hand corner and sign up for e mails. If you sign up for that, we’ll send out grassroots alert advocacy alerts and where we actually write a letter, a sample letter to your legislator on bills that are perhaps moving through committee or on the floor to be taken for a vote where you express your point of view. 

So on issues of science and secularism, CFI mobilizes its grassroots supporters to advocate for our shared values on those issues with our elected officials, correct? Yeah. 

Oh, another thing that CFI is doing and that you would get an alert on would be Science Debate 2008 Center for Inquiry. Along with other reputable organizations, scientists prize winners are calling for a presidential debate based on questions about science only because we think science is so very, very important to the country. 

The biggest questions facing our society today are questions at the intersection of science and culture, science and society. And it’s amazing that none of the candidates are debating the issues from a scientific perspective reign or addressing it. 

So what one could do is go out on the Web. W w w dot science debate 2008 dot com and sign up, sign your name saying that you want to have a presidential debate based on science this year before this election. That’s really important. The other thing that’s really exciting that’s happening here in Washington, D.C. is February 22nd to the 25th. The Center for Inquiry is holding its first annual center for inquiry civic days at the Capitol. It’s going to be an action packed, fun filled weekend starting out on Friday as people are arriving on Friday working. Be holding a social on Friday night here at the center. They come to the center, check us out, meet us, meet the other folks. 

This is CFI, D.C.. 

Yes, DFI, D.C. and the Office of Public Policy. And then on Saturday, we’re going to start with our first presentation on climate change and global warming. And then right from there, we’re gonna go to the Marion Kushner Science Museum, where they actually have some exhibits explaining in detail global warming and climate change. And we just did that today. It’s really, really a great interactive kind of science exhibit. 

So this is a weekend. It’s a way for our supporters to get trained on Capitol Hill. And then later, you’re actually storming the halls of Congress, right? 

What we’re doing at work and actually the other thing that we’re going to do on Saturday is we’re having a private tour by two staffers, one Republican and one Democratic, going to be exporting us around the Capitol building on our first sightseeing tour. We’re asking people ahead of time to make appointments with our legislators so that when they come here on Monday after our briefings on Sunday and we’ll you know, we’ll have packets will go round and team and meet their legislators and talk to them about issues of important. 

Who are training our folks to advance science and secularism with their legislators. Right. 

And doing their civic duty, participating in our government, having their voices heard, standing up, being present, being accounted for, letting them know that secular humanist really care about what’s going on in our government today. 

And what’s the Web site? 

If people want to register for that, get more involved with civic days, they can just go right to the center for inquiry, dot net flaccidity, and that will bring you to our home page. 

Now, off subject, Tony. So we’ve been talking about American domestic politics and activism. Switching gears to finish up. I know you’re really excited about this fifth installment of CFI vacation cruises we’ve been putting on year after year. These are cruises, kind of vacations where supporters get to spend a week with leading thinkers on science and secularism. This next one coming up is in the Amazon with Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein, Paul Kurtz. 

Yes. And DJ Grothe Jim Underdown and others. 

You might suddenly regret this data point of inquiry will be they’re going to be really a lot of fun and, you know, one of the main purposes of the vacation club. And so bring like minded folks together where it’s a really intense time. There’s a lot of one on one conversation. We’ll be eating meals together. We have a very exciting program put together and that is located. You can check out all the details on that at W W W Dot, CFI, travel dot or Jim Underdown. 

These events aren’t just. Vacations, though, they’re not just a bunch of secular humanism skeptics and pro science types getting together to enjoy vacation, their intensive with lectures and conversation and panel discussions in and kind of making plans for activism in the future. And in fact, some of our CFI communities have been sprung from these vacation cruises you’ve put on. 

Yes, that’s right. And then the other thing that’s really important to mention is that we’re going to be doing a lot of five trips and sightseeing from the cruise ship. And there’s going to be an emphasis of some lectures on the Amazon basin, what’s going on there and what we can do and our responsibilities to a planetary ethics and the globe to advance Paul Kurtz’s vision of planetary humanism. Right. And we’re gonna have a really exciting program of presentations on the ship by Steven Pinker, Rebecca Paul, Kurt, DGM, myself and others. And we’re also have a focus on the Amazon River basin itself and the environmental concerns that we have for our planet and what we can do about those things. 

Right. It’s a World Heritage site. 

And this will be the third time that the Center for Inquiry Travel Club has visited World Heritage Site A UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Tony, thanks for our quick conversation before we get Eddie on the line. I appreciated being able to explore for our listeners, our Office of Public Policy and what you’re doing on Capital Hill. As our director of government affairs. 

Thank you so much for having me. 

Hello, I’m Barry Car, executive director of the Center for Inquiry. 

As you watch the scores of U.S. presidential debates, do you ever wonder why there has been no debate devoted to what may be the most important social issue of our time? Science and technology? 

Well, we did. And we went to help make one happen. 

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, increasing need for accurate scientific information and political decision making and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness. The Center for Inquiry has joined in a call for a public debate in which the US presidential candidates share their views on the issues of the environment, medicine and health and science and technology policy. Please help make this a reality by getting involved. Visit Science Debate 2008, dawg. To support this effort today. 

Thank you. 

I’m really happy to have Edward Tomasz back on point of inquiry. He’s a constitutional and civil rights attorney in Beverly Hills, California. Graduating magna cum loud from UCLA in 1973, he graduated from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles three years later and was admitted to the California bar that same year. 

He’s chaired the National Legal Committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State since 1995, and he’s considered the most publicly active man in the abortion rights movement in California since 1981. He’s argued and won before the California Supreme Court and sits as a part time judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court system. Since 1990, he’s been a member of the First Amendment Committee of the ACLU of Southern California and also chairs CFI as First Amendment task force. His bio could go on and on. He’s on the board of the Center for Inquiry. He’s chair of CFI, is West Coast Branch in Los Angeles. But I want to get to the conversation, Eddie, to bash. Welcome back to Point of Inquiry, my friend. 

Thank you for having me, T.J.. I really appreciate being on point of inquiry, because given the power of the religious right and the extreme dominance of religion in our culture today, this point of inquiry show that you’ve put together is such a powerful alternative voice and it’s beginning to have a true impact on a society that’s very, very difficult for people with our view to break into. So it’s a great pleasure to be here. And I want to congratulate you on doing such a magnificent job in putting the alternative to religious dogma on the map through point of inquiry. 

Well, I appreciate you saying that. Eddie, you’re the one person I wanted to talk about the issues. We’ll get into today, since your CFI is expert on so many of these topics, we’ll discuss. You also chair Americans United for Separation of Church and State, that organization’s national legal committee, also CFIUS, First Amendment Task Force. So you have the bona fide days to really explore some of these topics. Let me just say from the outset, and it bears being emphasized that the Center for Inquiry is nonpartisan. There are liberals and conservatives here, libertarians, even an anarchist or two. But issues of science and secularism. When you say they cut across these political distinctions. 

That’s exactly true, T.J.. 

I would say that one does not have to be dogmatically left of center or right of center to disbelieve in all paranormal and supernatural and religious and spiritual claims and to believe the universe is naturalistic. 

It would entail opposing the agenda of the religious right. But it does not entail a generalized leftwing viewpoint and every single issue. So the belief that government should be secular and that we live in a universe with no supernatural agencies. That doesn’t of itself forecast where someone stands on every single issue. 

Well, what about those cultural conservatives who talk about the secular left and really make the Democratic Party be a secular humanist party? 

Well, there’s a difference between people who are religious and yet still want society secular and those of us who are not religious and want society secular. However, for purposes of the political legal landscape, there is no difference. So if somebody has personal religious faith, but they want society to preserve legal equality for a believer and nonbeliever alike, then to that extent they are our allies. So in this regard, when you consider who the Republicans would appoint to the Supreme Court and who the Democrats would appoint to the Supreme Court, the charge that the Democratic Party, even if its individual candidates are religious, would promote secularism is true because since the legal continuation of secular society depends on the Supreme Court. It’s absolutely true that one party would preserve an officially secular state by its Supreme Court nominees and the other would destroy it. 

So I brought you on to talk about science and secularism, especially as pertains to the U.S. presidential election. If you don’t mind, let’s survey the candidates, even though it’s very likely now that McCain will be the Republican nominee and it’s still up for grabs on the Democratic side. But let’s survey them all just so I can get your take on where they stand on our issues, science, secularism. 

Well, that’s a very interesting. 

Roadmap to get in, because initially and it has held every single Democratic candidate has promised to put on the Supreme Court. Those who would preserve church state separation, every single Republican candidate has said the opposite, in fact. In late October of 2007, Pat Robertson. Their most extreme religious right wing advocate in the country endorsed the most moderate of Republicans, Rudy Giuliani, because of his promise to appoint religious right wingers to the Supreme Court. John McCain. Who undoubtedly now will be the Republican nominee for president has always been an opponent of reproductive freedoms. He has always been against gay rights, even though he didn’t support the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. And McCain also. Wants to infuse government and religion and his description of the type of Supreme Court justice he would appoint. Definitely would annihilate church state separation. 

So McCain is not a Goldwater type Republican. He’s bad on many of our issues when it comes to science and secularism. Even though the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in their recent endorsement of him, kind of gave him kudos for having no tolerance for the anti science, no nothings who deny global warming and and those those sorts of issues. So he’s good on some of our issues. But you’re seeing across the line on these others, he’s in the same camp as Romney or Huckabee or or the others. 

The only issue that he is good on is global warming. But in so far as the culture war, in so far as whether the United States can officially in all branches of government, can efficiently push religion generally over nonbelief in so far as destroying the precious 61 year old mandate for government neutrality in matters of religion, he is as bad as the others, even though it was Huckabee and not McCain who said, look, if we’re going to change something, let’s change the Constitution to match the word of God rather than going with the Constitution, even if it contradicts the word of God. Yes. And four months ago, McCain said that we are a Christian nation. So it’s true that McCain may understand the scientific proofs about impending global warming and what it means for climate change, but that’s the only thing he understands in terms of what we might call a science versus faith based approach to government. 

So if we look at the Republican candidates just for now, Huckabee, we just talked about McCain, Romney, a Mormon, even Ron Paul, who is attractive to some seculars because he seems like a good libertarian. You know, some of our secularists, pro science types are right of center. They’re libertarian, but he has kind of some wacky views on alternative medicine, really bad positions on church. State separation is kind of a Christian nationalists in some sense. All of these these four candidates I just mentioned, your beef with them is that they’re too religious or let me rephrase that. They want to infuse their religion or religion in general into American government. 

My fear of them is that each of them will appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who will make up a new majority to nullify the separation of church and state. Now, when Romney gave his speech about religion and about his Mormonism, he treated it as a dialog among religious believers and openly talked about how morality works best if it has a religious foundation and seemed to hold the view that religious people don’t even exist in America and that he has Mormonism versus other religions is a dialog among believing Americans only. And as long as every American adopts the view. That religion is a pillar of morality. It doesn’t matter what religion. So what was frightening about Romney was that he was trying to appease the family of believers and acting as if the nonbeliever were not even a part of American society. 

That was his speech when he said you can’t have freedom unless you are religious, unless you have religion. 

Yes, that was that speech. 

So what’s a Republican to do if he’s secular and pro science? If if she supports the values of the Center for Inquiry, but is economically conservative, what options does he or she have? 

A choice has to be made. 

What I would say to such a person is that if the. Preservation of church state separation is paramount. If the separation of church and state and the continuation of a modern secular society and avoiding the religious tyranny that would come about if Justice Scalia, Thomas, Chief Justice Roberts and Alito had just one more ally on the court. If avoiding this new religious tyranny is uppermost in their minds, then. They would have to make a choice. Now, I think realistically, if someone is. Right of center, economically, even a more liberal president doesn’t usually make that much of a difference on the economy. A president’s lasting stamp on the very fabric of society is who they put on the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. For instance, even the most committed capitalist and the most laissez faire economic advocate would have to admit that. 

There is no greater. 

Appreciable capitalistic opportunity and capitalistic embrace by government under Bush than under Clinton, because the economic system of the United States doesn’t vary that much. The only thing that differs from president to president is the tax rates that they advocate at any greater at any moment in time. But the sea change would come about in the social freedoms and the religious climate based on the next Supreme Court justice. So the president, who replaces 88 year old Justice Stevens, sets the course for decades on whether we are a secular society or a society in which government can promote religion. So I would say to such a economically right of center, a secularist that they have to look at. On which of their beliefs with the most damage be done. And to ask themselves sincerely, sort of have what I would call the nonbeliever’s dark night of the soul, deep introspection. And ask themselves to what extent are they willing to compromise on their other political concerns to preserve the separation of church and state? Only each secular, conservative or each libertarian can make this decision for themselves. But that’s what it comes down to. 

So the biggest threat for you and why this election is so important is the Supreme Court. 

Yes, because the moment the Supreme Court would fall to even one more justice, we would lose government neutrality in matters of religion, which is the most important pillar of our freedoms. In addition to that, if Justice Stevens is replaced by a religious right winger, we will lose. After now more than 35 years, the federally recognized constitutional right of abortion, which prohibits every single state from banning a woman’s opportunity to obtain an abortion, then we would lose. The 2003 case, which decriminalized private same sex acts up until 2003. It was legally permissible based upon the 1986 case of Bowers versus Hardwick. It was legal for states not just to deny persons of the same gender the right to get married. It was legal for those states to criminally punish them for expressing physical love with each other. Only in 2003, five years ago, was that case struck down by a six to three majority. And now, since Justice O’Connor has been replaced by Justice Alito, we’re down to a five four majority. If Justice Stevens, who is 88 years old, is replaced by a religious right winger, we will then have a new five four majority to reinstate Bowers versus Hardwick. The most chilling thing about that decision was Justice Scalia’s dissent, where he actually talked about the propriety of the residents of a state using criminal law to express their disapproval of what he called deviant sexual conduct. 

This is his dissent in Lawrence vs. Texas. You’re talking about where this gay couple was arrested. The police stormed into their apartment looking for someone else, discovered them in gay relations, whatever, and arrested them unrelated to what the police were originally looking for. Exactly. So in Scalia’s dissent, he actually argued religious people should be able to and should legally be able to get their viewpoints about gay rights enacted into criminal law. 

Now, the subterfuge he didn’t say religious people. He said society collectively by majority vote should be able to enact their moral views. 

Now, what he would say. To those of us who advocate church state separation is he would say that the fact that those views are grounded in religion should not stop the state from being able to enforce them through the police power because he takes the view that religion can be collectively enforced by the populace as long as not one particular religious dogma prevails. But in addition to that, he also would take the view, as he did in the creationism cases, and that is he dissented in those cases. Also, when the claim was made that alternatives that are antagonistic to evolution are not necessarily grounded in religion, but they’re just alternative. So Scalia, in the Ivy Loaded case in 1987, took the position that the claim that all living beings spontaneously appeared on Earth in their present form can be seen as a non-religious alternative to evolution, and that there is nothing implicating God in such a statement unless you say there is. And the majority of the court thankfully saw through this and said this is a smokescreen. 

This is a subterfuge Jim Underdown that it’s really a church state separation issue, even though he he was denying that. You say the same about gay rights, these privacy rights questions like in Lawrence versus Texas. It’s essentially a church state separation issue. 

It’s exactly a church state separation issue. And it’s a church state separation issue on both provisions of the First Amendment, the right of two people of the same gender to love each other and to marry. That is a right that, if it is denied by government, violates the establishment clause, which requires government neutrality in matters of religion. It also violates the free exercise clause because there are some religions that would allow this to happen. But the frightening thing about Scalia is that. When it comes to both creationism and gay rights, he allows. 

The religious people who advocate for the retrenchment from evolution and for the banning of gay rights to use some kind of secular moral argument, even though we all know that the basis is religious. So the same tactic that the creationists use to argue that their disputes with evolution are non-religious are the identical arguments that, for instance, in the California Supreme Court right now, religious right wing groups are using to argue that their opposition to same sex marriage has a secular moral basis and with a change of just one justice on the Supreme Court. These Trojan horse arguments would fly. A majority of the Supreme Court said. Clearly in the last evolution case, the ideologue case said clearly that. 

This is a total subterfuge and that the efforts to claim that these antagonistic views that would oppose evolution have a secular basis is a sham to mask the religious purpose. And my argument is identical to that in the realm of gay rights, which is that the effort to claim that opposition to gay rights and even opposition to same sex marriage has a secular moral component is as much of a sham to conceal a religious motive as is the effort to teach alternatives to evolution. 

Eddie, I want to backtrack and talk about the Democratic candidates and their stances on on science and secularism. But before that, I just want to get something out of the way. Here you are defending gay rights as a secularist, as a humanist. Some people might say it’s immaterial. But just for the record, you’re not gay yourself. It’s not like you have an agenda. You know, being personally motivated because you’re gay. 


In fact, I would say that you won’t find too many 57 year old men who are as hung up on women as I am. 

So we’re going to be perfectly honest about it. It’s just I’d like to use the analogy that my mother was an Auschwitz survivor. And there were some very, very courageous non Jews, particularly in Holland, that were hiding Jews and risked their own lives to keep Hitler from getting out. Jews, even though they weren’t Jews themselves. And so even though I’m not gay myself. To me, the use of religious dogma to tell. A couple of the same gender that they don’t have the same rights as a heterosexual couple and that they should not just be denied the right to marry, but that they should actually be jailed for expressing love with each other. To me, that is as fundamental a violation of human and civil rights as racial discrimination. So in my personal view. To tell. Two men or two women that they cannot marry each other is very much equivalent to how it was in the 60s before the case of Loving versus Virginia, when states would tell black people and white people that they could not marry each other. 

Thank you for that. Eddie, to backtrack now, what’s your take on the Democratic candidates and their views on science and secularism? So far, we’ve really just been talking about church state separation. 

Yes, we’ve been talking about church state separation, because that is the big ticket item at stake given this election and the composition of the Supreme Court. All the Democratic candidates, the major ones, have expressed religious beliefs. Now. That, of course, does not in any way interfere with their simultaneous affirmance of church, state separation and a secular society. In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton was using religious metaphors and referring to his personal Southern Baptist faith. All over the country and in fact, in October of 92, right before the election, when the Supreme Court and leave versus Waisman struck down, not sectarian prayer at public high school graduations. Candidate Clinton criticized that decision as going too far. Yet President Clinton put two people on the Supreme Court who appealed that decision and upheld church state generally. Had Bush Senior been reelected in 1992 and replaced Blackman and wait on the Supreme Court, as Clinton ultimately did, we would no longer have a secular society. So the two major candidates on the Democratic side are totally committed to church state separation, notwithstanding their individual beliefs. And they have spoke about this extensively. They have talked about the types of justices they would put on the Supreme Court. And those justices that they would put on the Supreme Court would preserve what we secularists need most, which is government neutrality in matters of religion where the believer and nonbeliever are equal before the law. 

Now, Hillary Clinton, I believe, is a Methodist, and she talks about her faith, but she clearly states that her faith would not be something she would impose on others. Barack Obama does the same thing. He is a member of the United Church of Christ, which is the most liberal Christian church there is in terms of theology. In fact, that is the same church that Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is ordained in Jim Underdown. 

Right. His Reverend Barry Lynn. Right. 

So both of the Democratic candidates take the view that personal religious beliefs should be kept far away from public policy. Now, what’s interesting is there has been a vicious email going around that Obama himself had to finally address it fantastically. Some kind of wild, crazy, vicious attack on him, accused him of being a closet Moslem. Right. That is having a stealth candidacy so that he could take over the country for Islam. Mm hmm. 

And of course, this isn’t true. But in his refutation of this claim, he was able to talk about the church of which he is a member, which is an ultra liberal church. Now, also, as a church state separationists and as a nonbeliever, I, of course, would not have a problem with a Moslem president if that president were committed to church state separation. 

I would have a problem with no candidate, irrespective of their personal religious views, as long as they knew how to draw the line between personal faith and public policy. 

Eddie, we talked about this a bit earlier, but what give me some concrete examples of what the reality based community stands to lose if the courts reshaped in the image of these anti science anti secular conservatives. I mean, it’s not just that America will become more religious, which second resistant Leighann Lord there’s more of a threat than that. Right. 

The threat is an actual shift in the law to favor religious dogma collectively. It will mean that government will be able to give large sums of funding to exclusively faith based programs for charity. It means that women will lose the right of abortion and could even lose the right of birth control. If the 1965 Griswold cases overturned. 

But, Edie, a lot of liberal groups said in 2000 and 2004, wow, if Bush gets elected, women will lose the right to have an abortion and gay rights will go away. That didn’t happen. 

The reason it didn’t happen is we had a greater margin. What happened was when Bush was elected, we had a six to three majority for church state separation. His replacing of Rehnquist with Roberts was a wash. His replacing of O’Connor with Alito was a net loss. But we still have a five four majority. 

Now there is no margin, so there is no wiggle room. Now is the time to really stand up for science and secularism like people might not have in 2000 or 2004. 

Exactly. The same was true in 1992. In 1992, we had four justices who opposed. Church state separation, and we had five who were with us in 1992, we had Rehnquist. White, Scalia and Thomas. And so 1992 was a year in which had the incumbent been reelected, we would have lost church state separation whenever we are down to a margin of only one vote. We cannot afford to lose that election based exclusively on the Supreme Court. So the wiggle room we had in 2000 and 2004 was a six to three versus a five four majority on the court. 

Are we leaving something out of the discussion? Because it’s not just the president. Even if we elected a conservative president who would appoint a A.E church state separation judge to the court. Aren’t we leaving out the process by which senators confirm those nominations? I mean, isn’t that a fail safe? Can’t we protect the court by electing senators who value science and secularism? 

It’s too great a risk because ultimately the president always gets their nominee. It was a very, very. Clearly, Democratic Senate in 1991 that put Thomas on the court and Clarence Thomas has gone farther than any other Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas takes the view that not only is government neutrality in matters of religion a myth, but that the establishment clause doesn’t even apply to the states and each state should be free to have their own official church. 

The point is that a religious right wing sympathizing president will be able to ultimately get a religious right wing person on the court irrespective of the Senate. The only time that a religious right wing nominee in recent history was defeated and rejected by the Senate was in 1987 when President Reagan tried to put just about really the worst type of fascist any anyone had ever seen on the court, someone who was not even a true conservative, someone who was a state totalitarian, someone who didn’t believe in free speech. 

And there Robert Bork was rejected. 

So last question, Eddie. What can the reality based community, those people who are interested in advancing science and secularism in society, defending the rights of nonbelievers, all the things that Center for Inquiry works for? What can they do to stand up for these issues in this election short of just voting for the right candidate? Is there something more we could be doing? 

Well, we have to get the message out there as to what’s at stake. And we have to get the message out there as to the tenuous thread on which the Supreme Court hangs. And we have to talk about what’s at stake. We have to talk about the fact that there could be chorus of prayer in school, that evolution could be denigrated. STEM cell research could be banned. Private gay relations could be actually criminalized. Involving prison or jail time penalties. But most significantly, most significantly. Well, we stand to lose is the requirement that government actions can not reflect religious purpose. 

That is the entire foundation on which our modern freedoms stand and that fall. 

Eddie, thank you very much for joining me on point of inquiry. A lot of meat to this discussion, and I appreciated it. 

Thank you for having me, T.J.. And once again, I think that the point of inquiry is one of the most important outlets for the secular alternative to pervasive religious views, and that you’re doing a marvelous job in providing an in-depth response to those who would send us back into the Dark Ages. Well, thank you, Eddie. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. What one adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community. Who could have imagined that reality would need defenders? The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values. By becoming a friend of the center today, whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry Magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine or Center for Inquiry on Campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot. Center for Inquiry dot net. We host regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting WW w dot center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Before we finish up. I want to ask two things of you. One. Help us promote point of inquiry to new people. We’re very encouraged by our growing listener base and we think we could reach even more people through campus and community radio stations and also online. So help us out. If you love this show, second thing, do what Tony said at the beginning of the show. Become a friend of the center. That helps us know we’re achieving our goals with this outreach effort of point of inquiry. If you want to get involved with our online community and have a discussion with other like minded folks about today’s episode, join us on our online discussion forums at Center for Inquiry dot net slash forums. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily CFI views, nor the views of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry. Dot org or by visiting our Web site. Point of inquiry. Dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Cook’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. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.