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An Apocalyptic Cult

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In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant—Civil War hero, Republican—called for a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution: known to history as the Blaine Amendment (after the Republican congressman who introduced it in the House), it proposed to put teeth into the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (the separation of church and state) by prohibiting any “money raised by taxation in any State” to be “under the control of any religious sect.” The amendment was widely perceived to be aimed at the Catholic Church, which was agitating to obtain a share of public school funding for their schools.” The Amendment never made into law; it passed in the House overwhelmingly but went down narrowly in the Senate. Despite the defeat, the incident shows how great was the desire, even in the Republican Party, to keep religion out of governance.

Fast forward more than 140 years later, and you can see how far this country has wandered from President Grant’s objective. Nowadays, it’s common for religious schools to benefit from tax dollars. From 1968’s Board of Education v. Allen decision to Donald Trump’s and Betsy DeVos’s desire to provide vouchers to parents who want to educate their children in religious schools, America has seen a steady assault on the First Amendment. The most recent example was the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, in which the Court ruled that people who favor separating church and state go too far when they deny religious institutions access to government grants meant for a secular purpose.”

How religion, mainly Christianity, has gotten its nose under the secular tent is a tale of dogged determination by radical, militant churches, the spread of evangelical Christianity in America, and activists like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and the politicians whom they fund, including all recent Republican Presidents, aided and abetted by those bastions of the right wing, Fox News, talk radio and the Wall Street Journal. These outlets all have a heavy presence of Catholic and Christian ownership. Then, too, the Supreme Court is dominated by Catholics, including Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the Trinity decision.

Consider, too, the makeup of Donald Trump’s Cabinet, and its heavy presence of evangelical Christians, hardcore Protestants and Catholics. To give but a few examples, there’s Nikki Haley, the U.N. representative, who’s fiercely anti-gay, and whose church, Mt. Horeb United Methodist, teaches that “the practice of homosexuality [is] incompatible with Christian teaching.” There’s Scott Pruitt, at the E.P.A., whose Broken Arrow First Baptist Church similarly is strongly homophobic, while Pruitt himself is a climate-change denier who received support from Creationist organizations as well as from the Koch Brothers, who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting regulations for the coal industry. I could go on and on by citing other Trump Cabinet members who are Christian extremists—Rick Perry (“America was founded on Christian values”), Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo (“Jesus Christ our savior is truly the only solution for our world”),  and Ben Carson (Hillary Clinton is Lucifer, the Biblical Joseph built the Pyramids), but I’ll spare you the grisly details.

Since the end of World War II, there’s been a war in America between these organized forces of extremist Christianity who wish to destroy the First Amendment, and more rational Americans who realize that the Founding Fathers were serious when they prohibited mixing religion and politics. Regrettably, this war is being won, so far, by the Christians, who have taken over one of America’s two great political parties. In the words of a longtime GOP political operative, Mike Lofgren, “[T]he Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult.”

Which explains much. Can you imagine any Republican President today calling for anything remotely resembling the Blaine Amendment? If anything, Republicans want Christian churches to have more power to inject their particular theologies into public policy. Radical Christian extremists no longer care about religious meddling in governance. The don’t care about global warming, or poor people, or gay people, or sick people, or clean air and clean water, or anything worldly. The only thing that matters to them is The Rapture.

 

 

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