Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book, America: Imagine the World Without Her, comes out next month. But for now, it seems America will have to imagine a world without D’Souza.
The fundamentalist Christian author and commentator today pled guilty to charges that he violated campaign finance laws while campaigning for failed Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012; he could serve up to sixteen months in prison.Reuters reports that D’Souza, who served in the Reagan administration as a public policy advisor, had been indicted on charges of using straw donors to channel funds to Long’s floundering campaign, something he had strenuously denied until this morning.It’s merely the latest in a chain of controversies plaguing D’Souza’s career. Revelations that he had engaged in an extramarital affair forced his resignation as president of King’s College, an evangelical Christian school based in New York City, two years ago. Despite the scandal, he continued to promote himself — and his belief in the debunked idea that America was founded as a “Christian nation.”Like anyone else pursuing a career in the Religious Right, he amplified the argument that America has an intrinsically fundamentalist Christian character. He articulated this with particular clarity in a 2006 report published by the Heritage Foundation.
“Not that the Founders were anti-religion,” he wrote. “On the contrary, they were religious men (some Deist, some orthodox Christian) who insisted that political legitimacy and rights derive from God. The Declaration of Independence, for instance, insists that the source of our rights is ‘our Creator.’ It is because rights come from God, and not us, that they are ‘inalienable.’”In the same report, he argued that American government has a “religious foundation” and credits that foundation for providing the Founding Fathers with the inspiration to enshrine religious liberty in the Constitution. To D’Souza, religious liberty is a fundamentally sectarian principle.A year after publishing that report, he wrote a book, What’s So Great About Christianity?, which he marketed as a response to so-called “New Atheists,” namely Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. In it, he argued, “Today courts wrongly interpret separation of church and state to mean that religion has no place in the public arena, or that morality derived from religion should not be permitted to shape our laws.”He added, “Somehow freedom for religious expression has become freedom from religious expression.”In an interview with the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue about the book, he claimed: “…Christianity has a lot to do with forming the central institutions and values of the West, including values secular people cherish. In fact, one of the themes of my book is to show how institutions like democracy, even science, certainly human rights, the concept of just war, the idea of compassion, which has become such a powerful value in our culture — these ideas are rooted in Christianity.”By D’Souza’s logic, the courts have failed because they haven’t acknowledged the Christian roots of American law, which includes the First Amendment’s protections for religious liberty.If that rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. It’s identical to the rhetoric produced by right wing organizations like the Arizona-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which routinely capitalizes on church-state separation cases to make the argument that anyone defending a robust wall of separation is anti-Christian.In recent years, D’Souza promoted the myth that President Obama is a Muslim and continued to produce films and books beloved by the Religious Right — while violating federal law, it turns out. For his part, he’s spun the charges against him as a politically motivated attack due to his criticism of the Obama administration. That narrative’s gained some traction in the Religious Right, although like the rest of his work, it does not appear to be based in fact.D’Souza’s hypocrisy is hardly unique. But his legal difficulties show how willing the Religious Right is to manipulate the political system to its own advantage. His public fall from grace should be a lesson in humility to the extremists who supported him and his views, or at least an encouragement to renew their commitment to what they claim are their deeply held Christian values.Time will show if they’ve taken the hint.