Much of the information in this essay was taken from an article titled “Searching for Utopia” in the latest (May 2019) issue of Church & State magazine, a publication of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The author is Rob Boston, editor of Church & State.
Notice that I did not title this essay “United States Theocracy.”
The United States is not a theocracy. The Founders made sure of that. They remembered the religious oppression that the original colonists experienced before escaping to North America, and they made sure that it would not happen in their new country. The Constitution makes it very clear. Our government is secular, despite the bleatings of Christian historical revisionists who continue to claim that we live in a “Krischun Nayshun.”
But I am getting ahead of my story. Long before 1776 and the Declaration of Independence, theocracy was commonplace in North America. The Puritans ran a tight theocratic ship.
The Puritans fled England and Holland in search of religious freedom…but only for themselves. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a theocracy. Only church members could vote. It was against the law to work on Sunday, or skip church services. Dissenters, like Roger Williams, were banished from the colony.
With the formation of the United States, and its secular Constitution, such oppression of nonbelievers was abolished, and the theocrats’ hopes for a Christian theocracy were temporarily stymied. But many of the early states still operated as theocracies, with mandatory church attendance and government support of churches. Gradually, the states began to adopt the principle of separation of church and state. Massachusetts was the last state to provide financial support to a state church. They finally ended it in 1833. That was only forty years before my grandfather was born. Our secular government is still in its infancy…and still struggling against determined theocratic opponents who seek to undermine it.
Repudiation of theocracy at the national and state level did not stop local governments from establishing it. The city of Zion, IL was founded in 1901 by a Scottish immigrant named John Alexander Dowie. Residents of Zion were not allowed to smoke, drink, eat pork or use modern medical practices. The city’s schools rejected evolution and taught that the earth was flat. Other religions were banned, and the church controlled all real estate sales. Only church members were allowed to buy property. Their grip on government did not end until 1942, when I was five years old.
In New Jersey, some towns prohibited people from shopping, going to the beach or driving their cars on Sundays. Some of those laws were not overturned until 1979, when I was in my forties. This is not ancient history! The town of Bay View, in my home state of Michigan, was founded in 1875, with a mission statement that described the town as “an institution in which Christian values and traditions are central…to provide a Christian perspective in a changing world.” Home ownership was restricted to Christians. Believe it or not, that law was not dropped until 2018! Last year! Not ancient history, indeed! These religious fanatics are still out there, and still working on undermining our secular government.
A more immediate threat comes from the Religious Right in the form of opposition to women’s rights and oppression of the LGBTQ community. Unlike the Christian Reconstructionists, who seek to overturn our secular state, they have adopted a systematic incremental strategy to undermine our secular government. The egregiously misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 is an example. It exempts religious believers from the anti-discrimination prohibitions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA), allowing them to discriminate against “protected groups” as defined in the CRA if their religious beliefs require it. It was one small step in their plan to return the United States to a religious theocracy…and it was shamefully successful. You can be sure that more will follow, including attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Several Religious Right groups are planning systematic attacks on Roe. Some states have already passed laws restricting abortion access. Have you heard of Project Blitz? It is a well-funded, coordinated effort to undermine our secular government. Here is a description of their organization.
“Project Blitz is a coordinated effort by Christian Nationalists to shape state law using a distorted definition of “religious freedom” to undermine LGBTQ equality, attack access to reproductive healthcare, and push a false narrative that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.”
Read more about it here:
There is no end to this. They are determined, and we must be equally determined to oppose their primitive and intolerant beliefs.