Relentlessly, even while we sleep, Christian evangelicals are busy trying to insinuate more and more of the doctrines, practices and symbols of their faith (prayer, slogans like “In God We Trust,” school Bible study, etc.) into the government-funded public arena.
With the aid of a disingenuously sympathetic president and a curiously accommodating Supreme Court, they too-often succeed.
The latest stealth assault followed a scathing December 19 editorial in the evangelical Christianity Today denouncing President Trump as “profoundly immoral” and calling for his impeachment removal from office.
It immediately got the president’s attention. He appears fearful of few things as viscerally as possibly losing the support of any of his vaunted “base” of pro-Trumpers.
“More than 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election,” a recent Reuters report noted. “But a crack in evangelical support opened up last month when the magazine Christianity Today wrote a blistering editorial on Trump’s ‘grossly immoral character.”
Pew Research Center in a 2019 survey reported that 43 percent of American adults — some 110 million citizens — self-identify as Protestant. Fifty-nine percent, or 64 million, are “born-again or evangelical Christians,” Pew revealed.
It’s no wonder that what so many probable supporters are thinking worries the president not a little.
So it’s also no surprise that he might quickly and energetically try to offset any potentially negative public-opinion shifts among his faithful base.
In a Jan. 3 speech at King Jesus International Ministry adjacent to Miami, Florida, the president promised:
“Very soon I’ll be taking action to safeguard students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools. [Anti-religionists] want to take that right along with many others. … We are defending religion itself, it’s under siege. A society without religion cannot prosper.”
Of course nobody is actually trying to take away any religious person’s rights, but rather trying to keep majority Christians from trampling on the constitutional rights of others, discriminating against them because evangelicals’ religion demonizes folks who are, say, godless, gay or alternatively gendered.
And prayer has never been officially and categorically banned from schools. What is banned is adult school officials — principals, teachers and coaches, etc. — promoting, encouraging or requiring participation in religious, usually Christian, activities at schools that marginalize non-Christian students. As always, any individual student, or even self-directed groups of students are free to privately pray at school at will.
The goal of evangelicals in the Christian Right is not just the neutral allowance of personal prayer in school — which already fully exists — but the ability to orchestrate Christian activities at schools and through peer pressure coerce the involvement of all students regardless of faith or none.
On Jan. 17, barely a month after the Christianity Today piece published, the president announced “historic steps to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools … there’s nothing more important than that, I would say.”
The day before, the president had issued new “guidance on prayer in public schools,” explaining that “the government must never stand between the people and God,” according to USA Online Press. In fact, the Constitution requires a figurative “wall of separation” (Thomas Jefferson’s words) between the people’s government and God.
Under the new “guidance,” states would reportedly be required to notify the Education Department about complaints against any elementary or secondary school district regarding prayer rights. Guidelines also ensure that student religious groups at public colleges and universities would receive the same funding and privileges extended to secular groups. USA Online Press reported the administration claims it is seeking to “level the playing field” between faith and secular groups receiving federal funds, and to counter efforts by “the far left” to “prohibit religious expression.”Fortunately, the new guidance is more public relations than substance. According to public media outlet NPR, the president did not propose any amendments to existing law or regulations but instead is just publicly talking about empowering the rights of religious students and teachers.
“The Department of Education will send a letter to education secretaries and officials in all 50 states reminding them that students and teachers can’t be discriminated against for practicing their First Amendment religious rights,” NPR reported Jan. 16.
However, the updated guidance still states unequivocally that “teachers and other public school officials, acting in their official capacities, may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities.”
The president just wants to remind his evangelical supporters that, despite what Christianity Today might say about his moral fitness, he remains his devout acolytes’ most committed champion.
NPR reported that the administration “plans to streamline and mandate a federal complaint process that students can use to alert authorities when they feel they’ve been discriminated against.”
The White House’s new school-prayer initiative is part and parcel of the evangelical Religious Right’s continuing guerilla campaign to Christianize America in stealthy but enduring ways.
Note that the evangelical Project Blitz organization, which is fully behind bolstering more prayer in schools, has also succeeded in getting eight state legislatures to pass laws either mandating or strongly encouraging schools to prominently place “In God We Trust” banners in heavily traveled corridors and rooms.
Patriotism is secondary. Forcing children to continuously encounter God and messages of divine primacy is the primary goal.
And the administration continues executing new rules and regulations to more easily allow Christians to discriminate against non-Christians and non-believers who don’t subscribe to the behavioral precepts Christianity mandates. Like fundamentalist bakers refusing to design wedding cakes for same-sex couples due to biblical injunctions against homosexuality.
Evangelicals are also taking to the courts in scattershot attempts to make legal the use of tax funds to pay for the education of children at religious, mainly Christian, schools, and to underwrite after-school bible clubs run by adults in school facilities.
Keep your eyes open. It will get worse before it gets better.
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