Pruitt shows that theocrats are more willing to violate other laws

Pruitt shows that theocrats are more willing to violate other laws April 9, 2018

By Andrew L. Seidel
Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is a prime example of a theocrat who believes he’s above the law.

The Constitution  — especially the First Amendment — is a check on the government’s power. So violating the First Amendment is, in every sense, an abuse of power. If a government official is willing to abuse his or her power for one reason, it only makes sense that the person would abuse it otherwise.

In our experience, yes. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Such individuals don’t think the law applies to them. They believe that because God is for them, they are above the law. That kind of heady power trip will not obey mental boundaries. After all, if the Constitution — “the supreme law of the land” — doesn’t apply to my actions, who cares about lowly little criminal laws or ethical guidelines?

Pruitt abused his power as Oklahoma attorney general to promote his personal religion. He informed public schools that they were permitted to distribute bibles; they’re not. After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument in front of the state Capitol was unconstitutional, Pruitt, in his official capacity, said, “quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong,” argued that the court’s order was unconstitutional, and filed a new, frivolous legal action to defy that court order.

FFRF pointed this out to the Senate during Pruitt’s confirmation hearings and even gave them sample questions to grill him on these very issues, including: “Can you commit to using your public office to promote constitutional values, including the separation of church and state, rather than to promote your personal religion? If there were a conflict between the law and your religion, can you commit to upholding the law?”

At the same time, Pruitt has continued his theocratic bent in his new position, including deciding important policy issues by referring to the bible:

As more and more information comes out about Pruitt’s abuses of power — “renting” an apartment from the wife of a lobbyist who had regulatory business before the EPA, exorbitant spending on unnecessary furniture, absurd security measures, asking his motorcade to use sirens to get to a restaurant on time, abusing his access to public funds to fly first class and privately charter planes, and firing, demoting, removing or otherwise silencing any EPA employees who dare question him — all I can think is, “we told you so.”

Even Fox News is giving Pruitt a hard time:

FFRF warned that this would happen. It was obvious to anyone who knew how to read the tea leaves of theocracy. If he won’t obey the First Amendment, why would he obey other laws? Pruitt is not alone. Plenty of men and women who abuse their public power in the name of their God and have also been caught abusing that power for other reasons. We find them at all levels of government and across the political spectrum. Here are just a few:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appears to have ignored all his ethical obligations as an attorney and as a public official, and ignored some laws as well. He’s awaiting trial for securities fraud. There are new ethical and legal concerns stemming from that trial because as a public official, he has received money for his legal defense. (Securities trial pending.)

Tennessee Judge James Taylor wanted to put up the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. FFRF told him he couldn’t. Turns out that he never got the chance. He’d been using his position as judge and as an attorney to steal money raised for the decalogue display and from his clients. Apparently, he was also fond of sexaully harassing employees. (Went to jail, disbarred.)

Rhode Island state Rep. Peter Palumbo called Jessica Ahlquist, a First Amendment heroine, an “evil little thing” for challenging a prayer banner in her Rhode Island high school. He embezzled campaign funds. (Sentenced to three years of probation.)

William Higgins, a prosecutor in Bedford County, Penn., who went after a teenager for the crime of “desecration” simply for taking a lewd photo with a Jesus statue, was just charged for “offer[ing]leniency to female criminals if they had sex with him.” (Charged, trial pending.)

Then-Rep. and later Sen. Larry Craig co-sponsored a resolution that would have amended the Constitution in ways that would have violated the First Amendment by allowing the “teaching of the Judeo-Christian ethic” in public schools . . . includ[ing] the Ten Commandments and the creation of the earth as accepted in Judeo-Christian tradition.” You no doubt remember him soliciting gay sex in a public bathroom, for which he was arrested and pled guilty, but he also misused campaign funds for his legal defense in that “wide-stance” case. (Ordered to pay fines and reimbursements of about $250,000.)

Kim Daniels, the Florida state representative who sponsored the infamous bill that mandates the display of “In God We Trust” in public schools and another bill to encourage students and teacher to pray (both unconstitutional), and who regularly uses her official government social media to preach, has been under investigation by the Florida Elections Commission for, among many other things, using campaign funds for her personal expenses. (Case dropped in January on a technicality.)

Reford Theobold was mayor and a council member in Grand Junction, Colo. He was responsible for the Ten Commandments monument in front of city hall. He was arrested for shoplifting candy bars. Thou shalt not steal, unless the law doesn’t apply to you. (Community service, fine, counseling.)

And don’t even get me started on Roy Moore.

I’m not suggesting that any relation between theocratic and criminal tendencies is causal. In fact, I could easily be the victim of confirmation bias. I work to keep state and church separate. I know the worst theocrats. I’ve battled with them in and out of court. When one falls from grace, I take notice. But even with all those qualifiers, I think it is fair to say that a theocratic bent is a red flag, a signal that this person whom we the people have given power is willing to abuse that power.

What does this all mean? First, I’d really like to see some research done on this hypothesis. If you’re an academic and this sounds interesting, I’d love to chat. Second, if theocratic misbehavior is an indicator of other problems, we should keep an eye on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Arkansas state Rep. Jason Rapert, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State nominee (and current CIA chief) Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson (who’s already had some problems) and Vice President Mike Pence.

Who knows what else they’ve been up to?


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. We depend on member support, please join today. We need you more than ever. Seriously, now is the time. 

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