Of all the egregious transgressions of basic civil rights committed by this administration, not only against the American public, but also against the world, I’m going to make conservatives smile and liberals cringe and say the following: illegally wiretapping U.S. citizens doesn’t even come close to “most egregious.”

Has Prince Dubya run roughshod over the civil and constitutional rights of American citizens? You bet. Is authorizing the National Security Agency to listen in on Americans’ calls to overseas locations or to monitor e-mails sent abroad without warrants a violation of constitutional rights and most probably American law? Likely, yes. But is it the worst Prince Dubya’s done? Not close.

Consider why: Right after 9/11, American intelligence was desperate for information on U.S. links to Osama bin Laden. We invaded Afghanistan shortly thereafter. Unlike the U.S. invasion of Iraq, now widely suspect in the minds of most Americans and seen as unthinkable by much of the world, few if anyone disputed the president’s dismemberment of the Taliban.

There is some evidence NSA wiretaps may have helped in that effort, or thwarted later terrorist plots. Sources told major newspapers this past weekend that one potential terrorist act undone by the NSA’s wiretaps was a plan by Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver, who pleaded guilty in 2003 to planning to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

I give the government an extremely wide berth when it comes to tracking down foreign enemies. But that wide berth narrows down to a sliver when it comes to my privacy, health and constitutional rights.

Each American has an inviolable right, for example, to the best stem cell research our money, savvy and ingenuity can buy. A beloved relative of mine has late-stage cancer of a rare form. American scientists might have found a cure for this and many other diseases by now, left unfettered by the moralistic and religious tethers that hold them back as Prince Dubya’s payoff to his evangelical base. This invasion of civil liberties is unequaled by any other we have endured during Prince Dubya’s 5-year reign.

How ’bout the debate over “rendition to torture?” Another example of Prince Dubya’s overreach? No doubt. But more of a public relations bungle than a direct affront to the average American citizen.

That person is much more likely to suffer personally from the president’s support for “creationism,” or, er, un-intelligent design and abstinence-only education. As the Toronto Star reported earlier this year, “In the classroom, the Christian right is advancing on two fronts: Fighting for lessons in creationism over evolution in science classes and abstinence over birth control in sex education classes. The ferocity of the battle against Darwinism has intensified since Bush’s re-election because school boards are attracting more evangelicals who expect conservative judges to side with them as they try to write evolution out of the science books.

“Abstinence education in the U.S. is fuelled directly by the Bush White House which spent $154 million (U.S.) on such programs last year, and has requested $270 million this year.”

The president also endorsed un-intelligent design telling Texas newspaper reporters last summer, “schools should discuss ‘intelligent design’ alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.” Making it fashionable to mock science is a much further transgression of the average American’s civil rights than the warrantless wiretapping of a few.

How? When morals trump science, biblical fantasies trump science-based education. If Americans fall any farther behind the world community in science, there won’t be time to catch up. China and India, unhindered by religious constraints, will leave us so far behind we’ll count ourselves lucky to savor their exhaust fumes.

Were the NSA wiretaps an overreach? In the minds of most privacy rights advocates, certainly they were. But to this personal privacy rights buff, the administration’s attempt to control how we think, what we learn in school, and what we do in our bedrooms is much more threatening to America’s future as the world power.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)