The framers, of course, never intended to erect an absolute wall of separation between church and state. And to the extent they did prohibit the intermixture of government and religion, the ban was intended to work only one way: The federal government was barred from establishing a national church. Under no interpretation of the First Amendment, however, are individuals who happen to be religious prohibited from serving in government or from engaging in politics, directly or indirectly. This basic fact of history seems to have escaped actor-activist Christopher Reeve and others.
Reeve, paralyzed by a spinal cord injury he sustained in a tragic horseriding accident, has been a strong supporter of stem cell research. Speaking to a group of Yale medical students, he said that religious groups and social organizations have no right to shape public policy on stem cell research. Reeve complained that religious conservatives "have had undue influence on the critical debate," and that it is his belief "that when matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table. One student disputed his point, saying that it is contrary to the American system to bar religious groups from participating in public policy discussions. "I don't object to anyone's religion," Reeve responded. "I'm a Unitarian myself. We're talking about the promise of science, the ethics of science, not religion. But that's not the point, Mr. Reeve. The issue is not whether you object to anyone's religion, but whether you would muzzle them and lock them out of the public debate.
Of course, this is exactly what Reeve and company want to do. We see this in the frantic reaction to President Bush's announcement that he was considering Dr. W. David Hager for appointment to the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The purpose of the committee is to study and make recommendations on the safety and effectiveness of approved and experimental drugs for obstetrics, gynecology, and related specialties. Dr. Hager, a pro-life Christian, is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the
University of Kentucky. He helped to write a petition for the Christian Medical Association challenging RU-486, the infamous "abortion pill." Because of Dr. Hager's pro-life views and promotion of abstinence before marriage, the left-wing political machine went into overdrive, with strong support from feminist pressure groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Their strategy was to discredit Dr. Hager's competency as a medical doctor and characterize him as a right-wing religious fanatic. This fed into the false stereotype that devout Christians-even those who are professional scientists-are somehow at odds with empirical science, which is decidedly not the case.
Senators Ted Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton both railed against Hager, with Kennedy huffing that the White House was "stacking these committees with right-wing ideologues instead of respected scientists." Senator Clinton puffed, "We're going to be in trouble in this country if we start moving toward theology-based science." But Hager has been widely published in medical journals, and in 1994, Modern Healthcare gave him the "Outstanding Physician in America Award." Robert M. Goldberg, a Manhattan Institute science scholar, remarked, "The Left wants to paint Hager as some sort of anti-science faith healer. In fact he is a respected researcher andunlike a lot of people who sit on FDA advisory panels-a practicing doctor who sees the promise and pain of medicine up close."
The groups opposing the doctor's appointment betrayed the depth of their view that outspoken Christians should not serve in such positions when they said Hager's ideological views created a conflict of interest that should disqualify him from serving, as if his Christian convictions would taint his medical objectivity. Following this line of thinking, one wonders whether an atheist's views, conversely, would color his medical objectivity, or whether doctrinaire pro-choice scientists might be too biased, for example, to acknowledge the clinically supported connection between abortion and breast cancer. Should atheists and pro-abortionists automatically be excluded from public service?
Dr. Hager strongly asserted that his Christianity and pro-life views would not keep him "from objectively evaluating medication" and therefore properly evaluating "some safety concerns [about RU-486]." Eventually, so much pressure was exerted that President Bush withdrew Dr. Hager's name from consideration. In this battle, the left wing prevailed by establishing an unfair litmus test against Christians serving in certain government positions-at least where their views might directly bear on their appointed responsibilities. Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, accurately described this as the latest example of "religious profiling." "What pro-abortion advocates really believe," said Connor, "is that even if a candidate is well-qualified and a good doctor, [that person] can't be an outspoken Christian and get appointed."
Consider the case of Jerry Thacker, whom President Bush nominated on January 22, 2003, to the presidential AIDS panel. Thacker has been involved in the fight against AIDS since contracting the illness in 1986. But when the Washington Post and other media reported that at one point in his AIDS ministry Thacker had described the disease as a "gay plague," a firestorm of protest ensued from the homosexual community. Eventually Thacker withdrew his name from consideration.
Yet there is serious doubt as to whether Thacker used the phrase derisively. The allegation arose from a biographical section on his website. "Before 1986," the site said, "Jerry Thacker was probably a lot like you. He had a beautiful family, a good church, and a rewarding ministry.
He knew vaguely about the 'gay plague' known as AIDS, but it seemed a distant threat." The reference to "gay plague" is in quotes and placed in a historical context. There is no indication that Thacker meant to use the phrase disparagingly-yet the press and others immediately seized on it and began characterizing Thacker as horribly insensitive and bigoted. Many remember, however, when not long ago media outlets such as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times,6 the New York Times,7 the Village Voice, and Time Magazine, as well as individual journalists, doctors, professors, and homosexual activists frequently used that very phrase, mostly to describe the disproportionate number of homosexuals afflicted with the disease. People generally understood that "gay plague" referred to the historical fact that early on the disease was associated with homosexuals.
Thacker's real problem was that he was out of step with the dictates of secular morality: He supports abstinence education as a means of fighting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; he believes that homosexuality is a sin and suggested on his website that homosexuals could overcome their problems through reliance on Jesus Christ. Far from being hateful or bigoted toward homosexuals, Thacker encouraged fellow Christians to reach out with compassion to AIDS sufferers. Unfortunately, the White House retreated and tried to distance itself from Thacker's views, which signaled that his nomination was history. "As bad as this is for Mr. Thacker," said policy analyst Peter LaBarbera of the Culture and Family Institute, "it is not just about him. The real message is that Christians and others who defend traditional sexual morality are branded as unfit for public service. This is a warning shot: You will stay silent about homosexual activism or even support it if you aspire to any public position."
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