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10 Reasons Why the Religious Right Is Not Pro-Family

by Rob Boston

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 19, Number 1.

"America is involved in a Second Civil War," screams the cover copy on James Dobson and Gary Bauer's 1990 book Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids. "On one side are those who defend family, faith and traditional values. On the other side are those who aggressively reject any hint of tradition or religion and want a society based on secular values."

Randy Tate, Executive Director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, warned in August that if Coalition members failed to vote, "the anti-family, anti-Christian Left ... which undermines the marriage-based family" would run America.

It seems as if every other word out of the mouths of Religious Right leaders these days is "family." Dobson calls his group "Focus on the Family." Bauer, his Washington sycophant, heads the Family Research Council. Religious Right leaders constantly claim to be carrying forth the banner for "family values."

Having monitored the Religious Right for 12 years, I am convinced that the Religious Right is many things, but pro-family isn't one of them. The banner that the Religious Right hoists is for narrow, reactionary, right-wing politics, not family values.

With that thought in mind, here are ten reasons why the Religious Right is not "pro-family":

1. Ignorance Is Not Pro-Family.

Parents who really care about children want them to grow up well educated and ready for the challenges of an increasingly technological society speeding toward the next century. Yet the Religious Right, through its constant advocacy of creationism, would have children learn Bible stories in place of real science. Thanks to their meddling, many public schools are afraid to teach evolution, and biology textbooks give the subject scant attention. As a result, an entire generation of public schoolchildren may grow up lacking an understanding of the principles underpinning modern biological sciences. Such ignorance cannot fail to have widespread and dangerous repercussions in the fields of medicine and research.

Furthermore, Religious Right activists bash public education incessantly, yet they have constantly stood in the way of efforts at innovative school reform. Instead, they champion outdated techniques such as rote drilling and mindless memorization.

2. Denying Children Access To Sex Education Is Not Pro-Family.

Concerned parents realize that children are curious about how their bodies work and need accurate, age-appropriate information about the human reproductive system. Yet, thanks to Religious Right pressure, many public schools have replaced sex education with fear-based "abstinence only" programs that insult young people's intelligence and give them virtually no useful information.

One Religious Right video I saw a few years ago depicted an actress dressed as a nurse lecturing a classroom full of high schoolers on the importance of abstinence. One boy raised his hand and asked what would happen if he engaged in premarital sex anyway. The "nurse" sighed and replied, "Well, I guess you'll die." Real pro-family parents don't deny the importance of stressing abstinence to young people, but they also know that today's teenagers are sophisticated enough to see right through simplistic, fear-based messages.

3. Censorship Is Not Pro-Family.

Most parents want their children to grow up with a love of reading. But in public education, the Religious Right does all it can to disrupt this by constantly challenging works of literature. At a certain age, young people need books that are compelling and interesting, books that are more than simply high school versions of "See Dick run." Yet Religious Right organizations have challenged novels like The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and a host of others. Not satisfied with having their own children excused from reading these modern classics, the Religious Right has sought to have them completely taken out of schools, denying access to other people's children as well.

In recent years, Religious Right groups have stepped up their attacks on America's libraries, insisting that all "controversial," "anti-religious," or "pro-gay" materials be placed on restricted access or removed altogether. The Religious Right has even attacked children's books that dare to portray nontraditional families in a positive light.

4. Religious Coercion And Intolerance Are Not Pro-Family.

Religious Right groups conceived and advocated for the odious and misnamed "Religious Freedom Amendment," a constitutional amendment that would have removed the separation of church and state from the Bill of Rights and replaced it with religious majoritarianism and heavy-handed coercion. Real pro-family parents recognize the equal rights of all children in public schools, no matter what their religious or philosophical beliefs and reject all forms of coercion in the schools. Contrast this to the Religious Right view, which holds that the majority should be able to impose its religion on everyone else. How would you like your child to be the only first grader sent out into the hall every morning during prayer and Bible reading because you're not Christian? Doing something like that to an impressionable youngster is child abuse, not practicing family values.

5. Denigrating Some Families Because They Are Different From Yours Is Not Pro-Family.

Real family values advocates recognize that child rearing is difficult and that all families need support. The Religious Right's view is that only heterosexual, two-parent families are worthy of support. Single-parents are criticized, and gay parents are routinely vilified.

Religious Right groups would deny gay people the right to adopt, even if that means children must languish in institutional care. Some groups go so far as to support denying gays access to their own children. In Virginia, several Religious Right organizations supported a court ruling denying a lesbian mother custody of her own child, for no other reason than her homosexuality. Real family values means realizing that people who think or live differently than you can be good parents too. The Religious Right has always been too immature and intolerant to recognize this.

6. The Philosophy Of "The Ends Justifies The Means" Is Not Pro-Family.

In the political sphere, Religious Right groups will do anything to win, including smear its opponents, distort their records, lie, and violate federal election laws. Real family values proponents struggle to teach their children ethical values, including those of fair play and honesty. Leaders and members of the Christian Coalition have the gall to accuse the group's opponents of being "anti-family" when it's their actions that have dragged our political system further into the gutter.

7. Hatred Is Not Pro-Family.

No parent in his or her right mind would teach a child to hate. Yet the Religious Right's rhetoric toward its perceived enemies is laced with hatred and intolerance and has that effect. Gay people, liberals, the nonreligious, pro-choice Americans, advocates of women's rights, and others have all been subjected to vicious verbal assaults and name-calling by Religious Right organizations. Real pro-family Americans realize that they should strive to avoid saying things they would not want their own children to repeat. Children exposed to Religious Right rhetoric could not help but learn to hate and fear those targeted by these organizations.

8. Hating America Is Not Pro-Family.

Real pro-family parents teach their children that our nation, while it has often fallen short of its lofty ideals, strives to be a good country where people are treated with justice and fairness. They recognize the occasional shortcomings of our political and economic systems and urge children to work to correct injustices. The Religious Right's rhetoric increasingly attacks and vilifies America. Many groups assert that our government is no longer legitimate because of court rulings they dislike, going so far as to flirt with approving of armed rebellion. This extreme view does nothing but give intellectual aid and comfort to the "hate America" crowd, exemplified by violent militias and other radical anti-government activists.

9. Ignoring Children's Needs Is Not Pro-Family.

The Religious Right is obsessed with children, but only "unborn" ones. While they constantly assail legal abortion, Religious Right groups have done virtually nothing to improve the lot of American children across the board. These organizations never lobby for better health care for poor children or seek to improve the circumstances of poor families. Robertson once attacked Head Start, one of the most effective programs for helping poor children get a decent education, and he has been a vociferous critic of welfare, even though children are the primary recipients of many welfare programs. Robertson also advocates turning education over to "free market" forces, which would all but guarantee no access to decent education for the poor. Many Religious Right groups, notably Dobson's Focus on the Family, actually advocate violence toward children. Dobson is a vocal proponent of corporal punishment, despite the fact that numerous studies have shown that striking children is ineffective and actually fosters anti-social behavior.

10. Attacking Working Moms And Making Them Feel Guilty Is Not Pro-Family.

Real family values advocates support all mothers, whether they work outside the home or not. The real pro-family position recognizes that many mothers today are conflicted about working outside the home and that some do so because of financial necessity, others because they choose not to withdraw entirely from the workforce. Religious Right groups seek to make working moms feel guilty, yet they have done nothing to help make America's business climate friendlier toward working mothers. In fact, when family needs and big business wants collide, Religious Right groups usually side with big business. Many opposed 1993's Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires companies to give parents time off to tend to sick family members, holding that it would harm the nation's business climate.

On the issues that really are "pro-family," such as affordable health care for children, creating quality, safe public schools, or ensuring access to affordable, safe day care, the Religious Right has either been silent or has served as obstructionists. In the place of these issues, the Religious Right has substituted its own agenda, which includes creationism and mandatory worship programs or coercive prayer in public schools, censorship, an end to legal abortion, and mean-spirited attacks on gay people and others who serve as targets of their hate. They can call it "pro-family" if they want, but plenty of evidence, including plain old-fashioned common sense, would seem to indicate otherwise.

Rob Boston is the Assistant Editor of Church & State magazine, published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C.. He is the author of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (Prometheus Books, 1996) and Why The Religious Right Is Wrong (Prometheus Books, 1994).

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This page was last updated 02/13/2004

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