EARTH AND AIR, CHURCH AND STATE

Loggers in Minnesota have turned a fight over access to timberland into a question of church and state.

Environmentalism faces an interesting new test.

Loggers in Minnesota have turned a fight over access to timberland into a question of church and state.

They have filed a court action claiming that the US Forest Service submitted to a philosophy amounting to religion when it supported environmentalist efforts to limit logging.

Their lawsuit asserts that two groups in particular, the Superior Wilderness Action Network and the Forest Guardians, adhere to deep ecology, which views the natural world as sacred.

By supporting the groups, the loggers argue, the Forest Service has favored one religion over another in violation of the doctrine of separation of church and state.

The loggers, represented by Associated Contract Loggers of Tower, Minn., asked the court to force the Forest Service to quit limiting access to timberland until the groups prove they're acting for other than religious reasons.

The environmental groups deny their beliefs amount to a religion. They and the Forest Service want the court to dismiss the case for lack of merit.

It sounds, frankly, like a case destined not to travel very far through the judicial system.

A simple denial by people that they are acting on religious grounds is probably sufficient to establish that they are not.

Even in antiquity, all that religious persecutors usually wanted from their victims was denial of religious belief. In fact, it was the refusal to make such denials that history records as consummate-and usually dangerous-religious behavior.

So if mere denial was good enough for the persecutors of yesteryear, it will probably turn out to be plenty for the enlightened jurists of today.

The question, however, is on the table. And the oil and gas industry should applaud those Minnesota lumberjacks for putting it there.

Is extreme environmentalism a religion or not?

Environmentalist extremists-even some middle-of-the-roaders-argue their positions on issues as though they were moral imperatives. They treat opposition as unrighteous. They assert a system of values that cannot be compromised. Many of them give their lives over to activism on behalf of environmental causes.

Their political agenda and behavior resonate with nature worship. They even have an incarnation of evil. It is people, the inescapable effects of which environmentalists would like to erase from nature.

No matter what the practitioners say, and no matter how the court rules in the logging case, environmentalism is indeed a religion. It has been one, a growing and increasingly powerful one, for a couple of decades.

This is the reason that environmental issues receive such poor consideration in politics. Many politicians would no sooner challenge environmentalists than they would the Pope. It is the reason that Greenpeace hooligans receive so little of the punishment they deserve for the unlawful and often dangerous stunts they perform for publicity.

So the loggers in Minnesota, by calling environmentalism what it is, have performed an important service. They have helped shove environmental discourse toward a plane more rational than the unassailable one it occupies now.

They have, in other words, asked environmentalism to come down from the mountain, join the other secular values that do, indeed, exist and that are frequently just as important as saving trees and fighting air pollution, and to begin, at last, to grow up.

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