WE invite you to join your Curmudgeon in a little thought experiment. Imagine, just for a moment, that lying were a crime in America. That’s right — speaking or writing a falsehood could get you some jail time.
Most of us would probably go about our lives unaffected by such a law, but some groups might be hit pretty hard. For example, how would an anti-lying law impact the creationism industry?
Let’s be more specific about the anti-lying law. Suppose it were a federal statute, so it would be applicable throughout the United States. It should have a frightening name that evokes memories of Room 101 from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The guts of the law would be something like this:
Such a law wouldn’t apply to purely religious organizations, presumably. They’re not lying, just preaching. But how long would it take for all the anti-evolution organizations to shut down? After all, they are entirely devoted to lying about science.
How long would it be before all the creationist museums shut down and creationist websites moved to foreign, spam-friendly jurisdictions, where they would be free to ignore this law? Our guess is that it would be only a matter of days, no longer. A law like that would be truly terrifying.
Despite the endless complaints of creationists about how they’re being persecuted, no such law applies to them, and no one wants such a law. Scientists neither need nor desire political power. They rely on evidence and reason, and they prefer that everyone enjoys the right of free speech. All that scientists have ever wanted is the freedom to do their work without political or ecclesiastical interference. As a consequence of the same freedom which scientists enjoy, creationists are also free. They’re free to lie all day long, and that’s what they do for a living.
Let’s continue our thought experiment, but this time with a little twist. Instead of merely applying to all lies, which would devastate the creationists, suppose the creationists achieved political power and enacted their own law like the one in the box, but their law also defined creationism as truth and evolution as a lie. That law would apply to scientists, science teachers, science writers — even to science bloggers such as your humble Curmudgeon. Then what? Then, as you can easily imagine, we’d all have to shut down or flee to some other country.
You’ve patiently read this far, knowing of your Curmudgeon’s political eccentricities. “Poor guy,” you’re thinking, “he’s a bit daft about governmental things, always imagining that the vision of the Founders is being undone.” Yes, we know what you’re thinking, and we appreciate your indulgence.
You’re thinking that there’s little danger of anything like that actually happening. After all, we have separation of church and state in America — at least for now. The creationists are trying to change things, as you know, but for the moment they don’t seem to be making any progress. It’s unlikely that they’ll ever succeed.
Anyway, why worry? America is the land of freedom. Scientists don’t want such a law and the creationist theocrats won’t get one, so there’s no problem. None whatsoever.
There’s nobody else who would want a law like that — right? Besides, no matter who wanted it, the American people would never tolerate a law even remotely like the hideous Section 1001 that we put in the box at the start of this post. Or would they?
We hate to ruin your day, but take a look at US Code, Title 18, Section 1001. That’s where we got the boxed language. There’s a Wikipedia article on it, but it’s brief and not very informative: Making false statements.
Once again, we know what you’re thinking: “Wow! When did Bush and the Republicans spring that thing on us?” Actually, it’s been around for decades. We’re not sure when that law was first enacted, but the notes at the end of this copy from the US Printing Office indicate that it’s been around since maybe the 1940s. That’s back when you-know-who was President.
Hey, okay — so there really is such a law. But don’t worry! So far, it only works in favor of federal officials. You’re safe. Perfectly safe — as long as you don’t talk to any feds. And as long as the creationists don’t get any ideas.
Pleasant dreams, dear reader.
Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.