20 years ago … THE MORAL MAJORITY VS. HUMANISM – Brief Article

Maxine Negri

from the March/April 1981 issue

Humanists and humanism are no strangers to attack.

In the 1960s, Max Rafferty, then superintendent of Public Instruction of California, was criticized for the failure of schools to educate. “I am not to blame. Humanism is,” he countered. Guidelines for Moral Instruction in California Public Schools was published in 1969 under his sponsorship. In the seventy-three-page “report,” humanists were blamed for progressive education, promoting birth control, materialism, doing away with absolute ethical and moral standards, infiltrating the Supreme Court, replacing religion with science, sexual promiscuity, and even sensitivity training.

Most California humanists were amused by finding everything worthwhile as well as outrageous attributed to them. There was some feeling of relief when shortly thereafter the politically attuned Max Rafferty found occupational domicile in Alabama.

Nevertheless, evangelical extremists continued their attempts to put the biblical six-day creation story into the public school curriculum as a “scientific” theory equal to, if not superior to, evolution.

In 1976, they changed tactics by introducing the Conlan Amendment, which sought to deny federal funds to any educational program teaching or supporting secular humanism, erroneously inferring its widespread presentation in American schools. Prophetically, in view of today’s political climate, the Conlan Amendment, though defeated in the Senate, was actually passed in the House.

With the year 1980, Christian fanaticism came to full flower in the formation of the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, a powerful lobbying group of Christian fundamentalists dedicated to electing their own political candidates who could be depended upon to be anti-detente, anti-welfare, anti-abortion, anti-Equal Rights Amendment, anti-gay rights, anti-sex education in public schools, anti-gun control, pro-family (according to the New Right definition of family), pro-military and pro-nuclear power buildup.

Throughout the land, radio and television evangelists have joined the anti-humanism crusade. It is reaching a hysteria equal to that of McCarthyism with its virulent Cold War mentality. Newspaper after newspaper carries letters to the editor denouncing humanists as child molesters, wanting to take women away from their “natural” place in the home, giving consideration to foreigners by sharing in the world’s resources. Fortunately, most Christians are not taken in by this right-wing Christian movement, which desires to replace science and knowledge with the Bible and eliminate federal government involvement in social programs for the aged and the young.

Humanists are committed to a pluralistic society in which individuals can have differing opinions. Many are now perplexed by the vehemence and growth of the attacks of the evangelical extremists. Humanists do not feel comfortable with the prospect of those who turn to the Bible holding all political power. We are too familiar with the part played by religion in recent military struggles in Ireland, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. We are also aware that population is growing faster than the rising expectations of Third World people can be met. To some extent, food, fuel, natural resources, jobs, educational and medical facilities, and capital are in short supply or incredibly maldistributed throughout the world.

There is need for the positive, constructive goals and procedures advocated in humanism. As Nick Shuler Jr. noted in the September/October 1980 Humanist, “Clearly, the constant assaults on humanism are not going to stop if we just ignore them. The New Right must be met in serious combat–to fail to do this is to surrender to them unconditionally.”

According to Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority alone is receiving contributions of $1 million a month. We humanists wish to further the right of free conscience and the right to differ. We favor equality of opportunity for persons of all races and creeds; universal literacy; the right to use contraceptives and the right of women to decide abortion issues; respect and love of others as well as of oneself; laws that further social justice rather than merely protect unearned special privileges. Humanists are committed to all humankind.

If we try to ignore the attacks of the Moral Majority and the New Right, we may be ploughed under. We may not be able to match their dollars, but we can try to match their persistence and determination. Toward this end every humanist and every friend of humanism needs to be willing to participate. Now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Maxine Negri was a former president of the Humanist Society of Friends and the Humanist Association of Los Angeles, a vice-president of the American Humanist Association, chair of its Commission for the Defense of Humanism, and recipient of the 1979 Humanist Merit Award and the 1981 Humanist Pioneer Award.

COPYRIGHT 2001 American Humanist Association

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