Considering the fact that I just wrote about religion, pluralism, and the pagan roots of American democracy mere days ago, it seems ironic that a scandal would break out over classes for government employees that assert the essential Christian character of this nation. This past Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reported that Carroll County commissioners asked county employees to attend a class run by a conservative Christian preacher on the Maryland State Constitution.
“David Whitney, pastor of a Pasadena church and a lecturer for the Institute on the Constitution, bases his teachings on the biblical view of American law and government. He said of the seminar scheduled for Friday, “We will be looking at the language of our founding fathers who wrote they were ‘grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberties’ front and center on this document. The Bible is the source of the authority that they looked to.” Critics, including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said local officials are improperly mixing religion and politics in the seminar and wrongly using $800 in taxpayer money to fund it.”
This course, at first, seems innocuous enough, until you start reading the views of its teacher, David Whitney. For example, he argues that the Maryland Constitution forbids same-sex marriage, and describes his course as method to “free our country from the tyrannical stranglehold of unconstitutional government” (ie same-sex marriage). Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action, dug even deeper, and found that the institution that produces these Constitution courses are laced with Christian Reconstructionist writings, a school of thought that pushes for Christian “theonomy,” the belief the all ethics come from the Christian God (sort of like “theocracy lite”). Worse still, David Whitney is chaplain at two neo-Confederate organizations, including one profiled by the SPLC as racist and increasingly militant.
“Like many Dominionists, the Christian Reconstructionists leading and promoted by the Institute on the Constitution have a neo-Confederate outlook. David Whitney is described by the Baltimore Sun as a “conservative pastor,” but he is the chaplain for both the Maryland League of the South and the Southern National Congress. The former is designated as a neo-confederate hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the latter holds annual conferences of delegates from Southern states.”
“…the fact that members of the Board and the Board’s Chief of Staff are publicly encouraging employees to attend coerces them to do so. While attendance may technically be optional, when a direct superior strongly encourages employee attendance, many employees will consider non-attendance to be a potential threat to their jobs. And because the Board has placed its imprimatur upon the Insitute’s program, employees that disagree with the Institute’s religious views may conclude that the Board considers them to be uneducated about the requirements of the Maryland Constitution and potentially unfit to continue to work in government.”
One could classify this as an isolated bit of overreach on the part of the Carroll County commissioners, except that there seems to be a concerted push lately to redefine notions of religious freedom and the separation of Church and State in the United States. As The Washington Post reports, presidential candidate Rick Santorum isn’t the only conservative Christian who claims to be nauseated by President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech on religion and politics.
For conservative Catholics and other conservative Christians these comments were infuriating. Religion should be the source of an unchanging morality that guides all aspects of life, including governing, they argued. Archbishop Charles Chaput, then head of the Denver archdiocese, in a 2010 speech at Houston Baptist University, called Kennedy’s address, “sincere, compelling, articulate and wrong.”
As I wrote on Saturday, the notion that America’s Constitution is a “Christian” constitution is fundamentally flawed, and those who argue otherwise generally have an agenda that includes marginalizing minority religions and voices in our country. The moment we agree that we are living under “Christian” law is the moment the rights of all non-Christians, and Christians who dare challenge such an order, are endangered. These classes, even if they don’t outright proselytize, work to reorder society away from secular pluralism, and towards a “theonomy” where we are all subject to the moral teachings of a single faith. If we do that, instead of returning to constitutional purity, we instead lose the inherent pluralism at the heart of democratic and republican systems of government.