May 2012 Church & State | Editorial

Religious Right groups work hard to portray themselves as moderate and sensible “just plain folks.” But every now and then that ill-fitting mask of moderation slips off, and all of America can see the ugliness that lies beneath.

A textbook example of this occurred recently at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana, where a fundamentalist pastor named Dennis Terry asserted that people should accept that America is a “Christian nation” or get out.

“I don’t care what the liberals say,” he thundered. “I don’t care what the nay-sayers say. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – there’s only one God. There’s only one God, and his name is Jesus.”

Continued Terry, “Listen to me, if you don’t love America, if you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say: GET OUT! We don’t worship Buddha, I said we don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammad, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God, we worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

The event had strong political overtones. In fact, then presidential candidate Rick Santorum was in the audience along with Tony Perkins, who is president of the Family Research Council and a member of Terry’s congregation.

As nasty as Terry’s rant was, he did us a favor by delivering it. It exposed the Religious Right’s agenda in all of its mean-spirited intolerance.

“Worship our way or get out” is not an American principle. Rather, our Constitution guarantees us the right to worship (or not) as each person sees fit, guided by conscience. Your beliefs, or non-beliefs, about God, Jesus, prayer and so on are irrelevant to your standing as an American.

All of us – Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, Humanist, etc. – enjoy equal rights under the Constitution. Believers of Terry’s stripe are not “better” or “real” Americans, nor are those who believe differently somehow second-class citizens.

It’s discouraging that this must be pointed out to Terry and his ilk, but his attitude is all too common among the Religious Right. For many years, leaders and followers of these groups have insisted that all they want is “a place at the table.”

In fact, they seek to own the table and to determine who gets to sit there – and to cast out those who hold the “wrong” religious views.

Ironically, Religious Right leaders often claim that their views are somehow “American” or that they represent the true spirit of the country. Far from it. Such intolerance is decidedly un-American.

Advocates of church-state separation and freedom of conscience have a duty to stand up to it whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.