Running from the Religious Right

Many years ago, I ran away from home–Jacksonville, Florida–to Washington, D.C. I had just graduated from high school and had been awarded a full music scholarship to a prestigious Florida performing arts institution.

My departure was unplanned. It was an instinctive gesture that later proved to be my salvation from the religious cult that masqueraded as a Baptist Church. I asked my mother, a convert to the cult, to take me to the airport. She was glad to get rid of me. Years of brainwashing efforts by her, other members of my family, the evil preacher that she worshipped, and the intimidating churchgoers that formed her circle of friends, had not converted me. She reminded me every chance she could that I would burn in hell. Well, it won’t be as bad as living here, I would retort.

I left on a Saturday in August, with $100, a trunk, a small suitcase, and a conviction that I could make it on my own. An uncle in Virginia, my mother’s brother, had reluctantly agreed that I could stay with him and his family for a few days. My mother told him I was a devil–he was doubtless surprised that I was quiet and thoughtful. He gave me a ride to the Pentagon on Monday, two days after my arrival.

By the end of the week, I had a job there as a typist the bottom of the pay grade–a GS-2. I signed a lease on a one-room apartment, and rode the bus to work. With little expendable income, my free time was spent, on the weekends, walking the streets of Washington, D.C., delighting in the beauty of the city, especially its monuments and museums. It was an exciting time to be in Washington, a time of anti-war protests and people who were championing causes like peace and social justice. Though young and uneducated, I felt I had come home.

On Wednesday, November 3, more than thirty-nine years later, I was leaving a D.C. courthouse, traveling down Constitution Avenue, headed to my law office. Traffic was at a standstill, but rush hour was over. I soon learned that the streets were clogged with media and secret service, flying up and down the avenue in their black SUVs with tinted glass, preparing the way for our new emperor to claim his mandate.

I experienced an immediate sense of physical revulsion. Yes, I had been up late Tuesday night, sitting with friends quietly in front of the television as it became increasingly clear that what we feared would come to pass. Yes, I had had a little too much wine to dull the pain. Yes, I had slept fitfully, if at all, fearful of the future.

But these election night indiscretions were not the source of that sick feeling in my stomach, that sense of being punched in the gut, that difficulty in breathing. It was the recognition that what I had run from thirty-nine years earlier had caught up with me. The religious fanatics who had terrorized my childhood and adolescent years were back.

The fact that the right-wing bigots who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ but who worship only their own power were going to be a big factor in the election came as a surprise to me–and I, a political junkie, thought I knew a good bit about the campaign. I knew that churches, who ought to lose their tax-exempt status for doing so–were telling their members how to vote. I occasionally listened to the religious Rush Limbaugh’s of religious talk radio. I had read that Bush believed that God chose him to run for office in 2000 (I believe it was James Baker and George Schultz who did so, but I guess the God story tells better). My sisters and their families are still enmeshed in the religion–they and my cousins educated in the Christian madrasas–church schools and universities like Bob Jones that teach hatred and bigotry like other schools teach reading and writing.

So I knew they were out there. However, I did not know that they, not Kerry supporters, were registering in droves. Told to vote or fry in hell, I guess they figured voting was a decent option. (I can remember, when the minister of my church preached that voting was a sin–we were told not to be –worldly, to shun all things political.)

But I did not know they would carry the day. Or, at least, be a major factor in the big Bush win. Well, they were.

Bush himself is neither an evangelical nor a fundamentalist Christian. Take it from someone who knows. A good and decent family-values fundamentalist Christian would not allow his daughters to drink all night with Secret Service agents, appear in public in tight pants with their boobs hanging out, hair uncombed, and allow gays to work for him. A good and decent family-values evangelical Christian would not allow his wife to smoke and drink (Laura professes to taking sneak smokes and to enjoying Margaritas with her friends). Bush’s –Christianity, like all of Bush, is a fraud, a fake, a mask, a political tool. He is no more a Christian than my pet rock. (Ashcroft, now there is a Christian for you. Not my type of Christian, mind you, but at least the man walks the walk. He covers bare breasts on statues with drapes. Bush’s daughters let theirs hang out.)

But the religious bigots worked hard for Bush and he will pay them back. He said as much November 4, in remarks to the press. –I have a lot of political capital, and I aim to spend it.

And spend it he will, on trying to enrobe federal judges who will impose their sick values of fear and division on the American people. He will spend it on laws that further inhibit civil liberties. He will spend it on legislation that overturns abortion rights and gay rights and women’s rights. I can see him establishing a –litmus test for government officials. Say you have accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior and you shall be appointed. Don’t say it, and you won’t have a chance.

I cannot even begin to imagine all the ways he can spend that capital to enslave you and me.

On November 2, Washington, DC lost its charm for me. That charm had begun to fade after September 11, when the beautiful monuments were fenced off from the people with barbed wire, concrete barriers, and rickety wooden fences. But, I still looked lovingly on the Jefferson Memorial from a distance, a dim reminder of better times. I admired the rows of embassies, testimony to the day when the U.S. had friends and allies. I even admired the White House. There have been times when the occupant was not to my liking, but I never feared him.

Before Tuesday, I never thought we had evil in the White House. Those of you who hated Nixon, Johnson, and Clinton will look more kindly on them when you watch a puppet for Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson try to destroy your life. In a couple of yeas, we will all be longing for the moderation of a Rehnquist Supreme Court. You think weapons of mass destruction was a lie? Wait until you hear the lies that will be told in the name of religion. Wait until Bush tells you that God told him that all Unitarians or Jews who don’t –accept Jesus can’t get a passport. Wait until he tells you that AIDS, cancer, heart disease, and more are God’s way of punishing you for sins past. Wait until he tells you that if God meant for you to have health insurance he would have given you a job to pay for it. I know this will come to pass because this is what they believe. This is what they say. This is what they do.

I am going to be spreading the word about the evils of this movement like I think only one who has lived it can. That is, when I can find somewhere to run to.

Right now, I gotta get out of this place.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teaches law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. Her new book The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights, is published by Lawrence Hill. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net


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