Oprah Talks to Phil Donahue
Oprah: But you're back. When did you get the call from MSNBC—after you were on TV challenging [conservative talk-show host] Bill O'Reilly last October?
Phil: Around then. I saw O'Reilly stepping all over progressive ideas and people who wanted to say, "Wait a minute, maybe we should think before we get into a war. We got attacked by 19 guys with box cutters, and we're responding how?" We seem to have no patience for examining ourselves and asking questions; you get accused of blaming the victim. But that has effectively silenced dissent, which is needed now more than ever.
Oprah: If 9/11 hadn't happened, would you have wanted to come back?
Phil: I don't know—that was certainly a triggering event. I feel a responsibility to millions of people who are wondering where America should go from here. They're worried about the safety of their children, about how much our lives will change. This country is the most wonderful experiment in the history of civilization. No other nation has the instruments to protect an individual against the power of the state.
One of the Supreme Court stories I love is about Jehovah's Witness kids who wouldn't salute the flag in the 1940s. It was against their religion because they pay homage to no one except God. So there were schoolchildren in a classroom who wouldn't pledge. People threw stones at these kids and even burned down a Kingdom Hall in Kennebunk, Maine. The Supreme Court said they had to salute the flag. Three years later, the Court reversed itself—but in those three years, thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses were brutally beaten. In the final Supreme Court decision, Justice Robert Jackson said, "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion...." Majority ruled. Then nine old guys looked down over that mahogany bench and said to those Jehovah's Witness children: You obey your parents. That makes me a proud American.
Now we've got people with Jesus and the Ten Commandments on the wall, and they have absolutely no idea about the reason for separation of church and state. The separation makes religion stronger! You don't want the state telling your preacher what to say. You don't want some teacher in a public school fooling with your child's mind. Now that we have so many people who think they know what's good for us, we're beginning to see the wisdom of the framers. I can't wait to talk about these issues on the air.
Oprah: Will it matter to you if people don't like the show?
Phil: I'm just like everyone—I want to be loved. But it's important to see the enormous force that's marshaled against anyone who dares speak about certain issues. I once did a priest pedophilia show on St. Patrick's Day, and a priest called in and said, "How am I supposed to work on a playground with children?" When I was a kid, we used to have a sin called giving scandal, which meant criticizing the church. And that's exactly how we got where we are now.