|Patrick Conley, unfit for historian laureate post|
The only word I can find for my reaction to Philip Eil's puff piece entitled "Patrick Conley's fiery turn as historian laureate" in the August 29th Providence Phoenix is disappointment. Instead of critically examining Conley's long career as an active part of the seamy side of Rhode Island politics, the piece attempts to portray the man as a wonkish outsider, engaged in a war of words with the Providence Journal. In truth, Conley is a career politician, from his brief service as Buddy Cianci's chief of staff to his recent appointment as Historian Laureate by Secretary of State Ralph Mollis. He is the ultimate insider.
The war of words Conley is fighting against the Providence Journal, ("he has awarded the paper with a "Goebbels Prize in Journalism" for its "Nazi-like" opposition to his waterfront plan...") has not stopped our first historian laureate from collaborating with his enemy in printing an ignorant and misinformed broadside against the separation of church and state. On August 13th Conley published an op-ed in The "Nazi-like" Providence Journal entitled "Rhode Island never touted freedom from religion."
As pointed out in a rebuttal to his piece by Chuck Flippo, site manager at Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue National Historic Site and a board member of the Humanists of Rhode Island entitled "Patrick Conley on Rhode Island's religious history: Another perspective":
His statement that Rhode Island had “more than 300 years of uncontroversial and relatively innocuous contact by religion with the state” is contradicted by the man’s own research!
So eager is Conley to smear those of us who hold the secular nature of our government to be of primary importance that not only does he team up with his "enemies" at the Providence Journal to do so, he actually dismisses the findings of his own research. Conley's hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty are compounded by his inability to articulate an argument against the views of actual secular humanists. He argues, in the last line of his Journal piece:
Those of you who deny the existence of God and wish to eradicate religion and its symbols from civil society are free, as Americans, to make the attempt. Godspeed to your efforts. But please do not use history to validate your position.
Conley asserts, falsely and with undisguised sarcasm, that secular humanists are trying to eradicate religion and its symbols from civil society. This is a lie and Conley should know better. Secular Americans are only interested in keeping religion out of government, and government out of religion. The three recent cases Conley sites, the Cranston prayer banner, the Woonsocket Cross, and the median cross in Providence, are all very different cases with very different facts. Conley's arguments against humanists of straw demonstrates an inability to take on the real thing.
Conley is not interested in facts, even facts he himself has uncovered through his historical research. At their best, historians work to uncover the truth, and let the facts take them where they will without bias. Conley twists the facts to suit his predetermined opinions. Conley's status as a political insider with an acute religious bias, coupled with his inability to construct honest arguments based on reason and his fast and loose grasp of the facts, show him to be the wrong man to hold the title of historian laureate of Rhode Island.
Our state can and should do better.