Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Calvert's Smear Campaign: How Should We Respond?

Red State Rabble has a bone to pick with PZ Myers, publisher of the very popular and deservedly influential Pharyngula blog.

Before picking it, however, we want to note that this is a discussion among friends. Dr. Myers has been very kind to RSR -- generously linking to us, for example, when this blog was just getting started, and many times since.

Myers is also a forceful defender of science and reason, a clear-headed explainer of difficult ideas, and a wonderfully inventive and prolific writer -- and that's the highest compliment RSR knows how to pay.

All that being said, RSR wants to open a discussion amoung nonbelievers like ourselves who are active in the movement to stop right-wing religious fundamentalists from taking control of our laws and public institutions on how to defend ourselves -- and our allies -- from attacks by right-wing religious bigots like John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.

In linking to RSR's post, "Jack Krebs Responds to ID Smear Campaign," Myers indicates that he had "mixed feelings" about Kreb's statement that many tens of thousands of religious Kansans are being painted as "tools of atheism" by intelligent design activists like John Calvert, "and they have a right to be insulted."

Why, asks Myers, should anyone be insulted at being called an atheist?
If Calvert had declared that everyone at Kansas Citizens for Science was an Episcopalian, it would be just as ludicrous a lie, but would they then go on to deplore the terrible, horrible, insulting thing he had just called them?
Naturally, RSR understands the point Myers is making: being an atheist -- agnostic, secular humanist, skeptic, or free thinker -- is an honorable thing. We should not allow the dark forces of ultra-right extremism to turn our good name into an epithet in the way they have poisoned the word liberal. We need to be proud of who we are and what we stand for.

On that point, RSR is in full agreement with Myers.

And, for that very reason, it is RSR who would be insulted if Calvert charged that everyone at Kansas Citizens for Science was an Episcopalian, because it would misrepresent who we are.

Calvert's smear campaign has two objectives: first, it is designed to make the broad-based movement to defend science education in Kansas look narrower than it is. Second, taking a cue from the red-baiting attacks on liberals and progressives in the 40s and 50s, it is designed to insinuate that atheists are secretly manipulating the "good" Christians who oppose writing pseudoscience into the curriculum standards.

That sort of misrepresentation can have real-world consequences. In 2002, Iris Van Meter, a right-wing opponent of sound science education, won election to the board without ever leaving her kitchen. She never campaigned and never spoke to the media.

On the eve of the primary election, a shadowy group calling itself the "Truth in Politics PAC" sent out a mailing to voters in the 9th District charging that incumbent school board member Val DeFever "was supported by American Atheists Inc."
"Why does Val DeFever have their support?" the mailing asked. "Because she voted to force our children to be taught a one-sided unproven theory (monkey-to-man evolution) rather than allowing them to hear both sides of that issue along with the evidence for each and to choose for themselves what is right."
As Krebs' statement to the board makes clear, the defense of evolution is not an issue that pits the religious against the irreligious. In fact, the opposition to religious zealots on the state school board is both broad and deep. It is made up of ordinary Kansans of many faiths -- Evangelicals, Mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and non-believers -- and a broad spectrum of political views, from conservatives, to moderates, and liberals.

Calvert's smear has long been a staple of the creationist and intelligent design movements. On the day the new Kansas anti-science standards were approved, for example, right-wing board member John Bacon repeated the canard, saying:

“It’s a sad day for atheists.”

Carol Rupe, one of the moderates on the school board had a somewhat different take. “A sad day for education in Kansas,” she said after voting against the standards.

Rupe, a lifelong Episcopalian, former middle and junior high school teacher, and mother of three has been tagged with the atheist label and knows just how corrosive it can be:

“It bothers me that people think I’m an atheist,” says Rupe. At a school board meeting a while ago, she found herself publicly professing her belief in God as the Creator of the universe. “I said I don’t know how you can look at a newborn baby or a sunset on an ocean and not believe God did it. But that doesn’t mean you don’t teach students good science.”
Reactionaries, such as Calvert, attach the label of atheist to mainstream religious moderates in a conscious attempt to intimidate them, and as a warning to others of the cost they will pay if they dare to speak out.

Sue Gamble, another moderate school board member, who once described herself to RSR as a "Nancy Kassebaum Republican" knows just how dangerous the scapegoating of the religious right can be.

“I get death threats,” Gamble told David Wilson of the United Church Obsever. “I’ve been told I don’t deserve to live.”

In 2000, as her mother campaigned for state school board, Sue Gamble’s daughter was driving on a Kansas City-area highway when another motorist tried to run her off the road. Her car was plastered with anti-creationist bumper-stickers. Says Gamble: “The man told her, ‘If I ever see you again, you’re dead’.”
Fortunately, neither Rupe nor Gamble has been intimidated by these threats. In fact, although Gamble is not up for election this year, she has been organizing tirelessly to take back Kansas, courageously traveling all over the state to speak and raise money for moderate candidates.

Although RSR does not share -- or even particularly understand -- the religious faith of Rupe, Gamble and the many others like them who are active defenders of good science education in Kansas, we do admire their courage and commitment.

For these reasons, RSR stands shoulder to shoulder with our religious allies in the movement to defend science education and separation of church and state. We demand that they be treated with dignity. Surely that begins with resisting efforts to distort their beliefs.

Tomorrow, we want to talk about what we think the priorities of nonbelievers who are actively fighting the religious right should be.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?