Bryan Fischer, the extreme spokesperson for the American Family Association, spoke to thunderous applause at the recent Values Voter Summit. That he was invited to speak unequivocally defines the values the group stands for. That he was so well received should frighten those of us who care about liberty and justice in America.
Before I touch on some of what he had to say, let me remind you of who he is and for whom he works. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated his employer, the American Family Association, a hate group in recognition of their extreme positions. Fischer has repeatedly and clearly stated his views on Islam. He's made it absolutely clear that he believes the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not apply to Islam, that Muslims have no right to build mosques in America and that it is "time to restrict Muslim immigration to U.S., send them back home." He's been equally clear about his position on homosexuality, regularly calling for it to be criminalized and arguing that homosexuals be put "through an effective reparative therapy program."
Like so many right wing extremists, Fischer constantly speaks of the importance of the U.S. Constitution and the intent of its authors. Like so many right wing extremists, however, Fischer is perfectly comfortable disavowing, reinterpreting and simply trashing any portion of that same document that comes into conflict with his opinions. As a simple example of this, reread the sentence in the last paragraph outlining Fischer's views on the First Amendment.
At the Values Voter Summit, Fischer extolled the Christian values of the Constitution's authors and then demonstrated that he no longer cares for a portion of Article Six of the document they wrote. Article Six makes it very clear that the founders did not want a person's religion to disqualify him/her for public office. The relevant portion of the Article states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The founders couldn't be much clearer, could they?
Well, Fischer disagrees. In his speech, he said, "The next president of the United States needs to be a man, I'm speaking generically here, needs to be a man of sincere, authentic, genuine Christian faith." This attack on Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular wasn't reflective of a lapse in Fischer's awareness of Article Six. No, he was well aware that religious tests for elected officials are illegal. He just decided that the issue is important enough for him to recast what the founders meant to ban such a test. Here's how he disingenuously defended his attack on the Constitution: "This is not a religious test for public office. It is a political test for public office. It is a test of whether someone who wants to be our president shares the political convictions of the founding fathers."
So Fischer demands that only someone who "shares the political convictions of the founding fathers" is suitable to be president and he claims that the only way to demonstrate such political congruence with the founders is for that person to be a Christian, not just any Christian, but a Christian of a denomination he endorses. All of this despite the simple fact that the founders explicitly said they didn't want religion to be a qualification for the office.
Not surprisingly, Fischer managed to tie much of this together with his antipathy for evolution. I'll quote him at length so I can't be accused of taking something out of context:
We need a president who flatly, unambiguously, rejects the morally and scientifically bankrupt theory of evolution. Why? Why? Because the founders believed in a Creator with a capital C. They founded this nation on a profoundly religious concept that there is a creator and that that creator is the source of every one of our unalienable rights. Now, no matter what you think of the mythical separation of church and state, it is not possible for there ever, in the United States of America, for there to be a separation between God and government, because, because God is the source of every single right which government has the sacred duty to protect. Now I submit to you that not a single one of our unalienable rights will be safe in the hands of a president who believes that we evolved from slime and we are the descendants of apes and baboons. Now, if you doubt me, look at the nation-states in the 20th century which rejected the creator God of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Communist China. The one thing all of these secular states share in common is dead bodies. So we need a president who understands that the purpose of government is not to give rights or to grant rights but to secure, protect and guarantee those rights that have already been given to us by God.
It's all but impossible to know what to say about something as anti-intellectual as this. Rather than attempting to deconstruct Fischer's argument, I'll simply note four obvious points.
- Evolutionary theory, like gravity, the germ theory of disease and the theory of relativity, to name just three scientific theories, cannot be "morally bankrupt" for the simple reason that it offers absolutely no moral opinions.
- Evolutionary theory is also not "scientifically bankrupt." Indeed, it has been endorsed by hosts of scientific societies around the globe and thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers advancing the concept appear in the literature every year.
- No reputable scientist believes that "we are the descendants of apes and baboons" and evolutionary theory makes it clear that we are not.
- Fischer's implication that accepting evolution means rejecting the "God of the Judeo-Christian tradition" is categorically incorrect. As I've so often pointed out in this venue, the more than 13,000 clergy members who have signed one of The Clergy Letter Project's letters endorsing the teaching of evolution demonstrate how easy it is for deeply religious individuals to understand and accept the best modern science has to offer.
Frankly, though, Bryan Fischer's personal views are as irrelevant as they are incorrect. There are two things that are profoundly disturbing, however: First is the fact that he is regularly provided a public platform from which he can make his absurd and often hateful pronouncements. Second is the reception that his remarks receive. Discourse has been replaced by vitriol and a swath of the American public loves it.
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