Posted by Timothy Sandefur on December 23, 2005 12:31 AM

Some kind of trophy for the most absurd reaction to the Kitzmiller decision must go to Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics And Religious Liberty Commission. In this article in the Washington Post, Land is quoted as saying:

“This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that’s coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito,” said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. “This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries–if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung.”

I’m not sure what being “a political ally of White House advisor Karl Rove” means (doesn’t that refer to all registered Republicans?) but Land’s comments are absolutely indefensible, and, if they come from a man of significant official power, are wildly irresponsible. Remember what the Kitzmiller decision holds: it holds that the government is not allowed to put its seal of approval on a religion. If people want to propagate a religious view, they are free to do so on their own time and with their own money: but they may not use my money, or use the government’s coercive power to do it. This principle, of course, is the very bedrock of religious liberty itself–the liberty which Mr. Land’s Commission uses as its title. The concept of religious liberty is fundamentally based on the idea that government should not go around teaching people that a particular religious belief is true. One of the great founders of religious liberty, John Milton, explained that the state should

leave the church to its own government, and relieve [it]self and the other public functionaries from a charge so onerous, and so incompatible with [its] functions; and…no longer suffer two powers, so different as the civil and the ecclesiastical, to commit fornication together, and by their mutual and delusive aids in appearance to strengthen, but in reality to weaken and finally to subvert, each other…; [it should] remove all power of persecution out of the church, (but persecution will never cease, so long as men are bribed to preach the gospel by a mercenary salary, which is forcibly extorted rather than gratuitously bestowed, which serves only to poison religion, and to strangle truth)….

Was Milton part of the great atheist conspiracy to against religion? But Kitzmiller says nothing more than Milton does: that the state must not use forcibly extorted taxes, or the state’s official authority to preach the gospel. And this is the principle that Mr. Land describes as a “secularist reign of terror.” That’s what he said: America inflicts a “reign of terror” on religious people.

Today, under this “reign of terror,” Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and believers in other faiths are freer to practice their faiths than they have been in any nation, or in any era in human history. Religious citizens are free to pray, preach, proselytize, and publish, anywhere they wish onany subject they wish, without government interference. Nobody is threatening these liberties. Nobody in the American government is confiscating bibles, censoring religious publications, or illegalizing marriages (well, I guess there’s one group that’s out there illegalizing marriages…), the way common law England persecuted Catholics. Nobody is putting people on trial for their religious beliefs, arresting and torturing dissenters, proscribing religious enemies, the way Catholic nations once persecuted Protestants. No American official is arresting preachers and nationalizing church property the way Communist governments have done to religious groups throughout the twentieth century…. For Mr. Land to use the phrase “reign of terror” for a people and a time that enjoy greater religious liberty than any other people and time have ever had, is not only an utterly irrational exaggeration, but also a profound insult to those of Mr. Land’s predecessors who experienced and still experience genuine persecution.

And what is this about Alito and Roberts? I strongly suspect that Mr. Land knows no more than I do about Chief Justice Roberts’ or Judge Alito’s views about evolution or Intelligent Design or their constitutional status. One hopes, at the very least, that these two distinguished judges will consider their public utterances more seriously, and will reserve words like “reign of terror” for appropriate instances. And one is tempted to say that a better example of persecution is provided by those who issue veiled threats against the future careers of judges whose decisions they disagree with! Land gives a good reason for fearing, as C.E. Petit said a few days ago, that Judge Jones, by doing his job wewll, has blown any chance he may have had of getting to the Supreme Court.