PARIS, FRANCE–Notre Dame sits proudly in the middle of the River Seine, which winds its way through this ancient city. It is an impressive Cathedral, with its towering gothic arches and vaults, its captivating chapels, and its rich history.
Although the French still celebrate July 14, when a rowdy mob of radicals freed some non-political prisoners from the Bastille, they are still sober about the excesses of the French Revolution. For one, they seem to realize that it was silly for those Revolutionaries to expel the Church from France and turn Notre Dame into the “Temple of Reason.”
Still, they haven’t really gotten the point. This September, Muslim schoolchildren in France wearing headscarves were sent home under national law banning religious displays in schools. Large crucifix necklaces and yarmulkes are similarly illegal. If only this phenomenon–this crusade by the state against the Church–were limited to European capitals.
Thomas Frank, a leftist author from Kansas, wrote a book this fall titled What’s the Matter With Kansas? In it he asked why this state, and much of the heartland, had gone from being near-socialist to being the most Republican and conservative states in the country.
Franks writes that the GOP has fooled these poor rubes by demagoguing on social issues, and Democrats buy this story. In the week after the election, one strategist said to a crowd of Democrats, “we need to go back to bible school.” One Democratic politician said they just needed to start talking about “their issues” (health care) as moral issues, and then they’ll win back the “value voters.”
Franks and the Democratic strategists would have done well to show up at McLean High School the weekend before Thanksgiving to watch that school’s drama troupe put on a rendition of Inherit the Wind, the play depicting the famous 1920s Scopes “Monkey Trial.”
In the real life trial, the ACLU convinced a 24-year-old schoolteacher in Dayton, Tennessee to get arrested for teaching evolution in the public schools. The ACLU then brought in as defense attorney avowed agnostic Clarence Darrow, who was known for reading Nietzsche to assembled crowds of intellectuals in his Chicago apartment. William Jennings Bryan arrived to prosecute the teacher and defend the law.
I was at the play to watch my girlfriend’s little sister in the female lead (in which she was stellar), and frankly I was ready to get upset at what I figured would be an anti-religious leftist play. Instead, I got the answer to Franks’ question.
Why have the poorest counties in the country sided so fully with the Right? When did this happen? Maybe it was when the Left started sending big city ACLU lawyers to their small towns to tell them how to run their lives and educate their children.
Remember, on a political level, the Left was attacking its own. As Franks points out in his book, these were Democrats in these counties, and often extreme leftists. Bryan, the ACLU’s antagonist, was a populist who made his name fighting to devalue currency in an effort to make farmers’ debt less painful–in effect a startling redistribution of wealth.
But with the monkey trial, and countless cases like it, the Left drove the salt of the earth from their own camp.
The play gets its title from the Bible’s book of Proverbs: “He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind.” The Left should have listened to this tidbit of wisdom if it didn’t want to confine its relevance to the coasts.
Paris provides a good peek into our own future. Chirac banned displays of religion in all public schools in order to uphold France’s “tradition of secularism.” Similarly, the ACLU is tireless in its century-long war against religion, using the “separation of church and state” (words that never appear in the Constitution) as their rallying cry.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students are not allowed to pray on the loudspeaker at a High School football game. The 9th Circuit court outlawed the pledge of allegiance because it mentions God. A California school district has prohibited at least one teacher from using the Declaration of Independence for the same reason.
Liberals have a view of conservative Christians who try to force their religion on other folks, but a real look around shows almost the opposite picture. One of Ann Coulter’s greatest insights was that leftists are the new puritans, who can’t go to sleep at night fearing that someone, somewhere, is looking upon a religious symbol.
In Paris, there is no backlash yet. The French are accepting the state’s abolition of government–at least those who identify themselves as Christian. In the U.S., our history of resistance and rebellion leaves us with a different tradition than France’s: we resist people telling us how to live.
As long as the media and the Democrats see a photo negative of the real world–imagining that cultural conservatives are forcing their way of life on people–they won’t understand what it will take to stop the people from drifting towards the GOP: they need to stop sending their lawyers and judges to our towns and forcing us to have homosexual scoutmasters and banning us from praying.
In France, where the dissenters are immigrant Muslims, the consequences of the government’s war on religion may be more dire. But in the U.S., the Left, now out of power in the elective branches of government after attacking the way of life of their own people, is already inheriting the wind.
Tim Carney is a Phillips Fellow and a free-lance journalist in Washington, D.C.