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Speaking in code


Some years back, a wise friend of ours objected to the use of "Christian" as an adjective in phrases like "Christian schools." "Christian is a noun," she said. "Start talking about Christian schools, and before long you're talking about Christian plumbing." Promiscuous use of "Christian" is only one way the Religious Right bends the language to its purposes. When trying to appear unbiased, the Religious Righters employ "faith," as in "[Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller] told more than 200 people attending a regional faith-based substance-abuse conference at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock that President Bush's support for faith-based groups is exciting." They fear that if they said what they really mean -religion-based groups, or, to be more precise, Christ-based groups - their intention of subverting the constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion would be too apparent, inviting litigation. One bold speaker at the North Little Rock conference did choose to confront the First Amendment directly, though. This was Clifton Mitchell, who bears the imposing title of "faith and community partnership coordinator for the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse." (If they'd managed to work "homeland security" in, that would be a masterpiece of governmental gobbledygook. It's close as is.) Mitchell said that some people get "hung up" on the separation of church and state. "Is there anybody out there who doesn't pay taxes?" he asked. The founders of this republic were "hung up" on separation of church and state, and so they guaranteed religious freedom in the Constitution, and all Americans benefit. That the Religious Right sees freedom as a hang-up speaks volumes. As for his rhetorical question, co-ordinator Mitchell misses the point majestically. That we all pay taxes - Muslim and Buddhist, atheist and agnostic, Jew and Christian - is exactly why we don't let the government use our tax money to promote beliefs we don't share. There's a saying about all hat and no cattle. Mitchell is all title. Up in Northwest Arkansas over the weekend, right-wing political activists gathered at a Wal-Mart of a church to talk about "values." The discussion was led by James Dobson, head of a group known officially as "Focus on the Family" and more familiarly as "Focus on the Republican Party." Dobson urged the crowd to "Vote Values." "Values" is code for a host of unsavory activities and beliefs - gay-bashing, racial prejudice, oppression of women, forced prayer in the schools, and so much more. For William Bennett, who styled himself a values czar, dropping large sums in casinos was a value. For George W. Bush, Dobson's choice in the presidential race, "values" seems to cover war, unemployment, and government handouts to the rich. Strange values, indeed. The country cannot stand much more of them.

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