If we’ve learned anything from the past few weeks, it’s that the invisible line separating church and state is being erased. And no one is more willing to obliterate this imaginary barrier than those who create the illusion of superiority by standing above the crowd than those who preach from the pulpit.
Despite traditions that have been established to keep the two sides apart, ministers have been exerting their immense influence over politicians who have become beholden to them to maintain their positions of power. At one time their reach only tainted the halls of Congress, but recent decisions have shown that it now also extends to the Supreme Court.
Religion and politics have always been intertwined. Despite restrictions enumerated in the Constitution, religious leaders have exercised an enormous influence over political decisions. The Civil Rights movement that could not have happened without the participation of Dr. Martin Luther King is one such example of a positive collaboration between religious leaders and political ones.
America hadn’t elected a Catholic until it was almost two hundred years old because of prejudice against Catholics and the false belief that anyone leading the United States government would owe a greater allegiance to the Vatican and the pope than the Constitution. JFK assured the voters enough that he was able to squeak past Richard Nixon to become America’s first Catholic Commander in Chief. This paved the way for Joe Biden to win the presidency without the religious repercussions that haunted the Kennedy campaign.
We have yet to elect a Jewish president. Stereotypes have dogged any candidate that was Jewish and ran for the office. Most recently Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg ran, but their religious affiliation turned off some voters, preventing them from even getting nominated.
Religion and Abortion
Religious leaders have opposed abortion since Roe was decided in 1973. They have been relentless in attempting to overturn the right to the point of distorting the facts or outright lying about the issue. When New York passed it’s “Reproductive Health Act” in 2019, which allowed for late term abortions in limited cases, priests and ministers alike took to the pulpit to falsely claim that the law meant that doctors were allowed to terminate babies who were full term. It is a falsehood that still echoes in right wing circles and was parroted by Donald Trump numerous times, not because it is true, but because it is meat for his base.
Of course this caused outrage from the religious right, but it simply wasn’t true. Despite this, it fueled further challenges to abortion rights, particularly in the aptly named Bible Belt areas of the country, which witnessed the enactment of more and more restrictive abortion regulations. This led to the multiple challenges that eventually found their way to the Supreme Court.
In a decision that had more garbled legalese than a corporate disclaimer, Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion, declared the rationale that permitted Roe to be enacted was faulty. He stated there was no right to privacy guarantee in the Constitution, therefore there is no implied right to access to abortion services. He further cited certain exceptions found in the Fourteenth Amendment that vaguely reference states’ rights over federal authority.
There was jubilation among Christian groups who saw the decision as a victory that resulted from 50 years of prayer. They ignored the political pressure these groups used to force the decision, and the fact it wouldn’t have been accomplished without the current batch of conservatives who chose to use scripture instead of the Constitution to formulate their thinking.
A pair of unrelated decisions sent shockwaves through the education system as the Supreme Court sought to erase the line that separates church and state. One involved vital school funding while the other defended an individual’s right to publicly praying on school grounds. Both witnessed long-held tenets that kept religion apart from public education being eliminated.
In the first case, the court ruled that public education funds could be used to finance religious education. This reverses years of precedent where courts had previously upheld restrictions prohibiting the use of state tax dollars that would tend to support one set of religious beliefs over others.
Religious leaders applauded this move, seeing it as a means to further weaken what they view as a corrupt public education system that they claim is attempting to promote a Leftist ideology of Critical Race Theory and “grooming” children to be sexually abused. By taking funds from already cash-strapped school districts, they hope to bankrupt public education in favor of for-profit private schools that would only be available to those who could afford them.
When Roe was overturned, a Republican member of Congress suggested that the decision overturning the “separate but equal” law that promoted racial segregation be next on the Supreme Court’s agenda. Taking money away from public schools would effectively accomplish this even without negating this decision.
The second case saw the court reversing years of precedent by declaring the rules prohibiting prayer on school grounds as a violation of an individual’s First Amendment rights ensuring Freedom of Speech. The court declared a football coach was within his rights when he invited his players to join him as he led prayers on the 50 yard line following a football game. He was placed on leave when he refused to accept accommodations the school proposed that allowed him to continue his practice of after-game prayers at a location that was not-so-public.
This was a move widely praised by the religious right who saw the prohibition against school prayer as a motivating factor in the “moral decay” of our society.
Never mind that these very same leaders were up in arms when athletes engaged in the practice of “taking a knee” during the National Anthem to protest systemic racism in law enforcement. Nor would they have been so celebratory if the coach had rolled out a Muslim prayer rug instead of engaging in “wholesome Christian prayer”.
Right wing bubble-head Lauren Boebert praised the decision as she wrongfully declared that the Constitution contained no provisions that separates church and state. Instead, she stated that she’s “tired” of the practice, and that the church is supposed to direct the government.
Boebert is apparently as ignorant of the Constitution, unless you count the truncated part of the Second Amendment, as she is of the definition of what a theocracy is.
Fellow Republican Adam Kinzinger slammed Boebert’s comments and declared that religious leaders on the right wanted to create the equivalent of a “Christian Taliban” with the religious right’s growing influence over the branches of government, particularly the Supreme Court.
From their lofty positions in the pulpit, these religious hypocrites are continuing to spew their bigotry, misinformation and religious intolerance to their gullible flock. If we don’t halt their influence, we could be left with the dilemma George Orwell proposed at the end of his novel 1984: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but it was already impossible to tell which was which”.
The same may be true as we attempt to distinguish between what once was our democracy and what it may become. If religious leaders continue to use the pulpit to create policy, the system of government envisioned by the Founding Fathers will cease to exist.