Americans are approaching the 80th anniversary of the famous "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tenn., one of the few legal proceedings in our history that genuinely qualifies for the title of "trial of the century."
It defined a generation and, while the case was inconclusive, it carved out the stereotype of the "Bible Belt" or "the Sahara of the Bozart," an area of the country that could be deemed to be south of freedom, which, as the acerbic H.L. Mencken wrote, is "a vast plain of mediocrity, stupidity, lethargy, almost of dead silence."
The state of Ohio is not exempt from this Bozartian trend, as demonstrated by an effort to mobilize 2,000 evangelical, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic leaders in a grass-roots campaign to gain control of the Ohio Republican Party.
For years there was a cultural divide within the country. Now, it appears to be reaching toward the 49th parallel. Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio GOP, warned that the party, if pushed too far to the right, could lose its role as a "party of a big tent," and its decade-long dominance in a state that still remains quite equally divided.
Do Ohioans really want to get their marching orders from the pulpits across the state? If churches were to become adjuncts of a political party, it could be argued that they should forfeit the tax-free status that religion enjoys in this country, unless they manage to gain control of the third branch of the federal government, the still largely independent judiciary.
How long would the voters of a diverse and free-wheeling federal republic tolerate a tyranny of the majority, one in which doctors and pharmacists might even some day refuse to provide birth control pills for women on grounds of religious scruples and in which clergymen attempt to set the political agenda?
In the Scopes "monkey trial," which revolved around the teaching of evolution, it may be said that the prosecution eventually triumphed. Surveys have shown that teachers increasingly avoid the teaching of evolution or are pressured to label it as a "theory" and to put forward the biblical version of the creation of life on earth.
The result of that almost certainly will be the production of generations of young people who are scientifically illiterate and have contempt for science and its methods of inquiry. The folks in Dayton, Tenn., at least are profiting from the furor over Charles Darwin's theories; it brings in tourism dollars.
Strangely, Americans fail to comprehend the irony of imposing religious orthodoxy on our own society at a time when we are under attack by Islamic radicals and in which peace prospects between militant Israelis and their Muslim adversaries are not noticeably brighter.
It remains one of history's great paradoxes that wars fought over religion have been the scourge of mankind.
Ohioans should reject a pulpit-centered march to the right led by so-called "Patriot pastors" and the opportunistic politicians seeking to ally themselves with such a movement.