Jul 30, 2010

I like to see what Religious Right groups are up to, so I’m on a lot of their e-mail lists. It’s often angry, intolerant and misguided stuff, but the fund-raising letter I got today from Newt Gingrich stands out.

Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is currying favor with the Religious Right these days, and he seems to think Islam-bashing is a good way to accomplish his goal. In his missive on behalf of his group "Real Action," he denounced a proposed Islamic center in New York City and hit me up for money to block it.

“Please [select here] to STOP the Ground Zero mosque!” he begged. “Your decisive DONATION to Real Action will help us to RALLY and ACTIVATE all Americans, to TAKE REAL ACTION! Even though there are more than 100 mosques in New York City area, there are no churches and synagogues in the entire country of Saudi Arabia.

“America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy civilization,” he warned darkly. “Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could.”

Now, I don’t have an opinion about whether New York should have a new Islamic center – it isn’t a mosque, Newt, and it’s two blocks from Ground Zero, not at the site. Decisions about construction of religious institutions usually turn on local zoning laws, federal religious liberty law and the U.S. Constitution, which provides broad protection to the free exercise of religion.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, we have religious freedom here;  if Baptists or Buddhists could build a worship center at this location, Muslims should be able to do so as well.

Regardless of those points, however, it’s impossible to see Gingrich’s letter as anything other than an appeal to naked bigotry.

Ironically, Gingrich’s warning about Islamic rule comes at a time when he is pushing hard for Christian theocracy. In recent years, he has published a book called Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History and Future, cuddled up with “Christian nation” propagandist David Barton, delivered the commencement address at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and suggested that the 1999 Columbine killings and the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings should be blamed on our “godless” public schools.

And now Gingrich is openly consorting with right-wing extremists. In his letter, he urges readers to check out information from “my good friend Dr. Jim Garlow, the President of Renewing American Leadership.” (Renewing American Leadership is another of Gingrich’s front groups.)

Garlow, Gingrich’s hand-picked man, is a right-wing minister steeped in “dominionist” thinking that wants to impose a harsh Christian regime in the United States. According to students of the Religious Right, Garlow and his friends want fundamentalists to take control of the “seven mountains” of American life – government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, business and religion.

This year, Garlow, Gingrich and their allies are pushing a “Pray and A.C.T.” project to fast for 40 days before the November election and then elect candidates who support their theocratic agenda.

Pretty ominous objective.

I suspect the vast majority of American Muslims appreciate our nation’s separation of religion and government. That time-tested policy leaves them free to worship in their own way, alongside millions of their fellow Americans who have chosen other faiths (or no faith at all).

As long as Muslims obey the law and respect our constitutional traditions, they have the same rights here as persons who follow any other spiritual path. And, frankly, I don’t see much danger of a pending Islamic takeover of our government.

The people who really worry me are Gingrich and his cronies. The Religious Right has the money, the numbers, the propensity for duplicity and the theological zeal to disproportionately influence – if not dominate – American political life.