Public Policy Needs to Be Based on Truth

By Hank Zumach, June 12, 2011

Can we all agree that it is immoral and unethical to knowingly give false statements, particularly when those statements are intended to influence public policy?

Can we also agree that when people in positions of leadership become aware that false information is being used to influence public policy, they have a moral and ethical obligation to speak out against such false “facts”?

I would go further and suggest that those in leadership positions who decide to remain silent are doing the equivalent of lying themselves. In matters such as this, to remain silent is to give consent.

The simple fact is that certain leaders have a more prominent public voice than others, because of the nature of the organizations they are involved with. I believe they have a more prominent responsibility to perform morally.

The La Crosse Area Freethought Society is typical for a freethought group in that one of our basic values is to use facts and logic in arriving at decisions. We recognize the essential, critical difference between reality and opinion, belief and faith. We understand that faith is a belief that is not based on fact, and faith is the basis for religion.

I do not challenge that in this column. This column is not a commentary about theological differences. What I do challenge is denial of facts and religious leaders and scholars who don’t speak out when they know that distorted information or lies are being stated in an attempt to influence public policy.

A major danger is that many faithful have been conditioned to accept as fact virtually anything they hear from the pulpit or read in church publications. How far can the deceptions be carried by the leaders who intentionally take advantage of this for political reasons?

While most readers are familiar with Glenn Beck and his questionable presentation of “facts,” fewer are aware of the important role being played by David Barton in spreading untruths about the founding of the U.S. and our constitution.

A recent example of the influence of Barton was the rewriting of text books used in Texas and other states to eliminate reference to Thomas Jefferson and his role in incorporating the separation of church and state into the U.S. Constitution.

Why was this done? Because there is a segment of Christianity that wants to assume political power in America and to install the Christian equivalent of a Muslim republic. This is part of the “Christian Reconstructionism” movement that believes that the laws contained in the Bible — including those in the Old Testament — must be followed by everyone. Obviously, their beliefs can not allow for the separation of church and state, so they claim a version of history that never happened.

Here are examples of lies that have been widely repeated and passed along to the point where many members of the public accept them as truths:

The United States was founded as a Christian nation.
The Constitution was based on Christian principles.
The Constitution does not call for the separation of church and government.
Albert Einstein believed in God and said so publicly.
Evolution is an unproven hypothesis.
There must be many devoutly religious scholars — not necessarily clergy — who know these claims, and many others like them, are false. Surely they should be speaking out about what is factual and what is not.

The message must come from informed religious leaders, not secular historians or scholars, because the audience at which the lies are directed pays little or no attention to scholars, unless the “scholars” are giving their lessons from behind a pulpit or in a religious publication.

Barton and others are trying to create a history that never existed and a series of baseless beliefs. And if enough people in public office accept these distortions and lies, policies will be changed to reflect that untrue history.

If the devoutly religious truly believe in the need to tell the truth, why doesn’t a group such as the National Council of Churches create a standing committee of legitimate scholars whose function is to objectively state the facts in cases where people such as Barton or politicians are distorting facts in an attempt to influence policy?

If this were to happen, all Americans — freethinkers and theists alike — would benefit from a moral and political life based on truth.

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