Katherine Stewart has an op-ed column in the New York Times about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Greece v Galloway in which she identifies the Christian right’s long-term strategy with that and similar cases. I think her analysis is accurate, if a bit incomplete.
To understand why the case’s backers were so cock-a-hoop, you must first know something about the long game being played by the religious right. The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.
This was more or less the situation in the United States during the first half of the 19th century. In 1811, the New York Supreme Court upheld a conviction for blasphemy (the archetypal union of church and state) on the grounds that the state had an interest in punishing offenses to the religious sensibilities of the Protestant majority. Back then, nativist Protestants imposed their version of the Bible in public schools, while Catholics rioted in protest and placed their children in parochial schools.
Through the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the judicial thinking on church-state issues evolved, and the “soft” establishment became much harder to justify. The United States Supreme Court introduced the “Lemon test,” for example. Named for a 1971 case the court heard, this required that legislation concerning religion should not result in “excessive government entanglement” with religious affairs. The Supreme Court also increasingly took the view that government should abstain from any activity wherein a reasonable observer might perceive it to be endorsing religion.
Today, groups like the A.D.F. — which also represents Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in its challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act — are deeply unhappy with the reigning jurisprudence on church-state separation. It would seem that they wish to undermine the Lemon test, which they consider “burdensome,” as a staging post to restoring a soft establishment of Christianity in the United States. This is where Greece v. Galloway comes in.
I think this is true, though I would add that there are many among the Christian right that want an establishment that is not nearly so soft. The “mainstream” Christian right includes unabashed theocratic dominionists like Bryan Fischer, who claims that only Christianity is protected by the First Amendment. Like the rest of the conservative movement, the Christian right has been driven even further to the right in recent years. This is almost certainly the result of their justifiable fear that they are losing their grip on society as LGBT people gain greater equality.