Now that it appears virus-dazed U.S. President Donald Trump very likely could be voted out of office in November, we should begin thinking now — starting with the ethos of church-state separation — about how to inoculate our surprisingly fragile republic against a similar existential threat like him in the future.
In the four short years of Mr. Trump’s first term, at the president’s effusive urging, evangelical Christians have massively breached the church-state wall and proliferated throughout American government — local, state and federal — like hangry (hungry and angry) ants on a leaf.
Top cabinet officials, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr, in official public speeches as part of their duties have been routinely glorifying the kingdom of God and the necessity of embedding Christianity ever deeper into the nation’s governmental and cultural fabric. Pompeo keeps telling everyone he’s waiting for “The Rapture,” where human beings rise into the sky to meet Jesus descending to begin earthly End Times. Barr compulsively rails against so-called “militant secularists,” who supposedly are wreaking havoc on America.
Recently, the president ordered government jackboots to roughly clear racial-equality protesters from Lafayette Park across from the White House so he could walk unmolested to a nearby church to, inexplicably, hold up a Bible … allegedly upside down, but actually right-side up. His purpose is still unclear. Even officials of the church condemned using their sacred place of worship for a private political stunt, without even asking.
The actually militant evangelical group Project Blitz (which has since tried to renamed itself to sound less aggressive, but it’s original name stuck) has been busy for several years now forcing high and low court decisions making it far easier to sneak Christian proselytizing into American public schools, and to entice state governments to pass laws strongly encouraging and even mandating the placement of large “In God We Trust” signs on school walls across the country.
The slogan is even on the official flag of the state I live in — South Dakota — and other states’. Forget that Congress only codified the phrase as the “national motto” (originally, it was E pluribus unum [from many, one]) in the mid-1950s when the United States was spooked by godless Soviet Communism, then America’s arch-enemy. So the motto rebranding was, in fact, a religio-political hit job.
Still, there it is, and increasingly, emblazoned on school walls. Apparently, nontheist and non-Christian students are supposed to pound salt, because to the slogan’s creators, “God” is a Christian one.
And now we have the supposedly God-fearing Republicans in the U.S. Senate trying to force a rushed confirmation of a new, uber-Catholic jurist on the U.S. Supreme Court — a very legally qualified woman (Amy Coney Barrett) who also happens to have a history of writing and speaking against all abortions and the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. She also belongs to an odd, cultish group that enjoins its members to accept the “headship” of men and a subservient role in their families.
Mrs. Barrett insists that her religious views in no way affect her judicial decisions, but her history seems to belie that claim. Wariness of seculars, progressives and Democrats is warranted in this headlong rush to confirm Barrett, which will solidify a 6-3 arch-conservative majority on the court for many decades to come.
This is the long-cherished conservative game plan, to stack the courts with knee-jerk retros and, therefore, be able to block cultural evolution in the United States and keep everything like it was when the TV shows “Leave It To Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” represented how America ought to be in the 1950s.
Of course, that was before abortion and same-sex marriage were legal, and before Barack Obama’s administration succeeded in creating a health plan that allowed tens of millions more Americans than before to gain access to decent health care they could actually afford.
So, as religion proliferates in government, democracy erodes. This is because evangelical Christian zealots care nothing for the rights of non-Christians, atheists and the religiously apathetic. They care only that American government forces citizens to privilege their faith to the extent that they can never be compelled to do anything, even in the public square of human law, that doesn’t square with whatever their “deeply held beliefs” might be. They do this not by democratic means, but by deviousness in the halls of power.
For example, evangelicals believe — and the Supreme Court, unconscionably, agreed not long ago (in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) — that companies owned by Christians can refuse to provide their employees legally authorized access to birth control and abortion because their faith opposes it. This means they get their way but everyone who doesn’t believe like them is hugely inconvenienced and discriminated against.
And, of course, cake makers can refuse to create personalized cakes for same-sex couples simply on the basis of their religious beliefs against homosexuality.
That is exactly the kind of religious coercion and brutality that the Founding Fathers passionately hoped to avoid in their new democratic republic.
The question remains, however: How do we keep religion out of the tax-funded public square, including government, and leave decision-making to facts rather than destructive and destabilizing supernatural fancies.
Certainly, the Constitution enshrines religious freedom, but it was worded so that Americans could not be discriminated against or inequitably coerced because of their religion, especially by the government — not so that believers could discriminate against nonbelievers.
I would bet the farm the Founders never intended that religious dogma could be acceptable criteria for government policy. Yet here we are. “Pro-life” is just a code phrase for Christian antipathy to abortion due to the biblical view that all “life” in any phase is sacred, and scriptural injunctions against harming such life.
I suppose it would be morally better to criminalize abortions so that especially poor women would go back to back-alley abortions, or DIY ones with coat hangers. And forcing women (and men) to have kids they don’t want and can ill afford, sentencing them to a life on the ragged margins of society. Sure.
There’s got to be some way to once and for all relegate religion to the privacy of individual minds and keep it far away from the temporal, deliberative halls of governance. As we have clearly seen, religion in government is a destructive, anti-democratic, even un-American presence.
Certainly, we glorify the individual freedom to believe what we want in America, but not the freedom to force others to behave as if they believe what only some of them actually believe.
Maybe with Democrats controlling the House, Senate and presidency (and hopefully many state legislatures, as well) starting next year, we can figure out an equitable way to make government a faith-free zone. Right now, there seem to be no enforceable laws or rules to halt religion at the door.