Tom Waddell: Insurgency, Abortion, and Christian Education

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Those who believe America was founded as a white Christian nation are working to “restore” America to what they see as its founding roots. Events such as the Christian Nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 are reported, but their links to the January 6 insurrection, the anti-abortion movement, and state-funded Christian education are not.

The January 6 uprising was primarily the work of white Christian nationalists. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, said, “A lot of Americans look at that day and think, ‘A lot of crazy people acted out,'” and “What tied a lot of unconnected (groups) together was a worldview that Christianity should be fused with civic life, that true Americans are white, culturally conservative, natural citizens.

Rep. Huffman founded the Congressional Free Thought Caucus to “protect the secular character of our government.” The caucus recently held a forum, “God is on our side: White Christian Nationalism and the Capitol Insurrection,” to raise awareness that white Christian nationalism “is the single most important piece of this insurgency that people don’t not yet fully understand” and exposing the “implications for the future of democracy” represents Christian nationalism.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a report exposing Christian nationalism in the attack on the Capitol. Andrew Seidel, report author, says he believes January 6 was “the climax but not the end” and “the insurgents were given moral license to attack, and since then a growing slice of Americans are justifying it”.

“I’m watching what’s happening now, the rhetoric leading up to the midterm elections, and I’m more worried, not less,” he said. “We have a more brazen nationalism. The Republican Party has called the day “legitimate speech.” We will review something like this.

It is likely that the Supreme Court will ultimately leave the issue of abortion to the states, a state rights decision that white Christian nationalists are drooling over. Once Roe v. Wade abandoned, Christian nationalists would move on to other state rights issues, such as contraception, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, and state-funded religious education.

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“Just at the right time,” wrote Heather Cox Richardson, Maine historian, “Senator Mike Braun (R-Indiana) told a reporter that states should not only decide the issue of abortion, but should also be able to decide whether interracial marriage should be legal and whether couples should have access to contraception.” Senator Braun summed up his view: “…it is better for the states to manifest their point of view than to homogenize it across the country as Roe v. Wade.

Senator Braun’s position means that people are only entitled to all the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution depending on the state in which they live.

White Christian nationalists tried for decades to teach the “science” of creationism in public schools but, having mostly failed, refocused their efforts on publicly funded (Christian) religious education. The Supreme Court has ruled on several cases where plaintiffs sued to force the state to support churches with public taxes; the court always ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

However, the court consistently avoided deciding on the central question: are states allowed to violate the Establishment Clause to fund religion and religious education? In June, the court will rule in Casey v. Makin, the Maine religious privilege case which poses this central question. The court is likely to rule that Maine cannot “discriminate” against private religious schools by not paying for religious education if it chooses to fund secular private school tuition for students who choose that route.

However, forcing Maine to pay for religious education is not the Christian nationalists’ most important agenda; to establish America as a Christian nation by constitutional amendment is.

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Most Christians are not white, racist Christian nationalists; far from there. On the contrary, most people who identify as Christians follow Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he proclaimed the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” However, the Christian right has taken a sharp turn to the right in recent years.

White Christian nationalism poses a serious threat to American democracy. In his book “The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy,” Yale sociologist Phil Gorski writes, “White Christian nationalism is a dangerous threat because it is incredibly well organized and powerful. There is absolutely nothing like it left.

Their notion of freedom is a strong libertarian “don’t tread on me” mentality, a worldview “that puts white men at the top of society with everyone else below them.” Anything that threatens this order is considered a justification for violence.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments on [email protected] and ffrfmaine.org.

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