April 4, 2003

Bokaer Talks on Religion

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Joan Bokaer, a nuclear disarmament activist, organizer of A Global Walk for a Livable World in 1990 and co-organizer of the International EcoCity Conference in 1996, gave a lecture and slide presentation yesterday entitled “Bush, Congress and the Dominion Mandate.”

Bokaer spoke to approximately 50 people in the Founders Room of Anabel Taylor Hall. The talk was part of the new Theocracy Watch project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy at Cornell.

Bokaer discussed the rise of what she calls the “Religious Right” in the Republican Party and also what she sees as the consequent push for the reunification of church and state.

“We should be as attentive to Washington as we are to the war on Iraq, for there is a second war taking place in this country — the war on secular society,” she said.

She presented a number of statements from Republican senators and representatives as evidence for her argument.

Bokaer quoted Republican strategist Paul Weyrich, for example, as saying in 1980, “We are talking about Christianizing America.”

She also cited statements from Republican platforms, including the following from 2002: “The Republican Party of Texas reaffirms the United States of America is a Christian nation.”

Bokaer also drew evidence from America’s Providential History, a popular textbook in Christian high schools. She explained how many of the connections of church and state that the Republican Party makes can find their background in the teachings of that book.

Bokaer quoted from the textbook: “How are tax cuts part of the Dominion mandate? … The income tax is idolatry, the property tax is theft and inheritance taxes are not allowed in the Bible.”

She also said that the book clarifies the Religious Right’s environmentalist stance when it says, “The Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources on God’s Earth.”

Bokaer spoke on faith-based initiatives and school vouchers as further evidence for the rise of the so-called Religious Right.

She said that the Senate wanted to extend the funds of the faith-based initiative to all religions, but the Religious Right struck it down, saying that they could not give money to Hinduism because it is not a monotheistic religion.

She also added that school vouchers “now make it possible for government to fund religious schools.”

Bokaer presented ways in which she hopes to challenge the increasing power of the Religious Right, saying that it “attributes its success to voter apathy.”

“The majority of this country does not want the Religious Right agenda. … Our challenge is to … inform the voting public,” she said.

Bokaer ended by citing several signs indicating that changes may be ahead.

One such example was the Senate’s failure to end the filibuster on Bush’s judicial nominee.

According to Bokaer, this was the “first time one party has stood united against Bush” and is “also an example of what happens with good grassroots organizing.”

Bokaer cited the Senate vote to slash Bush’s tax cut plan as a second example of positive changes.

“The majority of people in this country favor a pluralistic country that’s open to diversity,” she said. “We’re not powerless. … We have seen in this talk what a minority can do if they are organized and committed.”

“I thought she answered [the questions] well,” said Cheryl Horton ’06.

One audience member asked Bokaer to elaborate on how the Religious Right woos Jewish voters through support of Israel.

Bokaer responded that at a Christian Coalition rally, the attendees were waving both American and Israeli flags, appearing to be pro-Israel.

However, she explained that her belief is that the Religious Right is “pro-Israel expansion” which is “really different from being pro-Israel because settlements are hurting Israel.”

“I thought it went really well. … I think it’s a movement that will definitely gain momentum,” said Joanna Souers ’05, president of the Activist Knitting Circle, which co-sponsored the event.

“I really enjoyed the presentation. … It brought up a lot of points about the Religious Right and their involvement in politics and the environment,” added Stephanie Juice ’04.

Archived article by Amy Green