A program of the Center for Inquiry
In 2006, California politicians voted to place a statue of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. As each state is allowed only two statues, it was decided to remove the statue of Thomas Starr King (1824–1864) to make room. King, a heroic San Francisco Unitarian minister/orator, led the struggle to keep California in the Union during the Civil War. Mountains, streets, and schools in the state are named after him, and his statue stands prominently in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
So whose statue will remain in the Hall? That of Junípero Serra (1713–1784), the Franciscan missionary who died sixty-four years before California became part of the United States, having founded the chain of missions from San Diego to San Francisco. Serra was no ordinary clergyman. He was a top agent of Spanish colonialism and imperialism, and as such was responsible for the abuse, exploitation, forced conversion, enslavement, and genocide of California Indians.
Serra has been “beatified” by the Roman Catholic Church and is a candidate for sainthood. His canonization would be an insult to indigenous peoples everywhere. Embarrassed, many California Catholics would like to see this process brought to a halt. Meanwhile, it is not too late for California politicians to avoid further embarrassment by leaving Thomas Starr King’s statue in the Capitol building and removing the one of Junípero Serra, a constant reminder of the damage done to the Golden State’s original inhabitants.
Louisiana Republican governor Bobby Jindal, mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain, is a twenty-four-carat theocon. He opposes reproductive choice and stem-cell research while strongly favoring school vouchers and the teaching of creationism in public schools.
A top Jindal legislative goal for this year is a school-voucher plan for New Orleans, still a long way from recovery from Hurricane Katrina—thanks largely to Bush administration and state government incompetence and indifference. Jindal favors vouchers despite the fact that a 2004 poll by the Baton Rouge Advocate found vouchers are opposed statewide by 60 percent to 34 percent, very close to the average opposition to vouchers or their variants by millions of voters in twenty-six statewide referenda from coast to coast over the last forty years. The Advocate found opposition to vouchers in every region in the state. In heavily Catholic New Orleans itself, vouchers were opposed 56 percent to 41 percent. African Americans opposed them 63 percent to 33 percent, while whites opposed them 59 percent to 35 percent.
Jindal and Louisiana theocons apparently care as little for public opinion as they do for their state constitution, which has one of the country’s strongest prohibitions against tax aid to faith-based schools. Laissez les bon temps rouler, as they say in Cajun country.
According to the World Health Organization (New York Times, May 16), a woman in a developing country dies of complications from an unsafe and likely illegal abortion every eight minutes. That adds up to nearly thirty thousand per year. And who knows how many orphans are left behind—or how many of the women were victims of rape, a common occurrence in the nasty civil conflicts raging in a number of these countries?
In May, Pope Benedict XVI marked the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical letter that condemned all forms of “artificial” birth control. “What was true yesterday,” he pontificated, “remains true today. The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae doesn’t change.”
What His Arrogance neglected to mention was that the overwhelming majority of the members of the Vatican commission that studied the issue prior to Humane Vitae’s composition strongly recommended that the Catholic Church move away from its rigid position—a view now shared by the vast majority of Catholics around the world who prefer to follow their own consciences. Yet unelected church officials have had enough political clout to impede United Nations actions on family planning and to influence U.S. governmental policy under recent Republican administrations, as with the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II gag rules on international family planning aid.
Remember also, as I pointed out in a recent column, that a third of a century has gone by since President Ford approved the National Security Study Memorandum 200 report that recommended universal access to comprehensive sex education and contraceptive information and supplies but which was mysteriously “classified” and buried until nearly the eve of the 1994 U.N. Cairo population conference. In that wasted third of a century, we have seen world population balloon by 50 percent, an increase that has added immeasurably to the misery of at least a third of the world’s people, especially as augmented by rising commodity prices, resource exhaustion, environmental degradation, and global climate change.
How many of the cyclone, earthquake, tsunami, and civil conflict deaths in Myanmar, Rwanda, Congo, China, and elsewhere can be attributed to the bullheadedness of dogmatic ecclesiastical leaders?
Edd Doerr, president of Americans for Religious Liberty (arlinc.org) and former president of the American Humanist Association, is the author of over 3,500 published books, sections of books, articles, columns, book and film reviews, translations, letters, short stories, and poems. He has made over 2,000 speeches and radio and television appearances.