When the Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison protected the burgeoning evangelical Christians by disallowing the government from instituting a state religion such as the English Anglican church. Many colonists brought their religious inclinations from Britain and were intolerant of Baptists whom they considered inferior and a polluting force for preaching on the streets and evangelizing outside the established church. Although Madison and Jefferson were not overtly religious, they saw that for America to be truly independent from English influence and especially the Anglican Church’s powerful influence on the British government, a wall of separation between religion and government was necessary. The separation of church and state has protected citizens, religious institutions, and the government from falling prey to the whims and ideology of a dominant religion since its inception, but the religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution is in peril and Dominionist evangelical Christians are making inroads toward establishing a theocracy that will change the nature of government as well as life in America.
The 2010 midterm elections have proven to be more dangerous for America than just a tea party-Republican majority in the House and state legislatures. Although voters in 2010 handed power to Republicans because of the sluggish economy and opposition to the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have focused their energy on social issues important to the religious right instead of creating jobs or helping the economy. The Republican majority spent the first three months of the 112th Congress addressing social issues in the guise of deficit reduction with their effort to defund Planned Parenthood, NPR, Affordable Care Act, and defending the unconstitutional DOMA. John Boehner is the Religious Right’s point man in Congress and met with religious leaders to reassure them that their concerns were his concern. After the House vote to defund Planned Parenthood and women’s health programs, Boehner said, “I met with a lot of religious leaders earlier today to talk about the strategy, and I think it’s important that we understand that what we want to do here is win the war, not just win a battle. And there will be an opportunity some time in order to win the big war, and we’re looking for that opportunity.”
The war Boehner refers to includes banning abortion, denying equal rights to gays, inserting religion into schools, and government support of different ministries and parochial schools. None of those issues were expounded on during the campaigns, but the right has merged budget concerns with social issues to garner support for issues the majority of Americans do not care about. Boehner claimed that H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion” law was a primary concern of voters although Republicans and tea party candidates campaigned on creating jobs and fixing the economy. The Religious Right has taken advantage of the tea party’s rhetoric on budget issues to shift the focus to social issues and they are having success thus far.
It is curious that fundamentalists have the measure of influence they are enjoying because a recent study showed that more Americans consider themselves non-religious than ever before at at time when fundamentalist ranks are declining. In fact, 15% of Americans consider themselves to be agnostic, atheist, or non-religious and it is the fastest growing religious preference in the country with increases in every state. However, the inherent nature of Christianity directs adherents to control individual’s lives as well as the government. Religious leaders cite Christ’s directive to “make disciples of people of all the nations…teaching them to observe the things I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20) as the prime directive to all Christians, and attempting to convert the entire world to Christianity, is not unlike Islam. It is dangerous though, in a free society to allow religion to become the driving force of government.
In cities and states around the country fundamentalists have infiltrated city councils, mayoral posts, law enforcement agencies, and school districts in their drive to control government from every possible angle. Nationally, fundamentalist Christians are firmly entrenched in Congress, and the military instituted a religious test that service members must pass to be considered fit to serve. School districts around the country are filled with fundamentalist Christians who quietly push creation as a replacement for science as well as censoring reading material based on Christian principles. It is not enough for these extremists to allow Christians to opt out of reading material; they are removing the alleged anti-Christian literature from all student access in violation of the law.
The Religious Right does not have America’s interests at heart and therein lies the danger. After the House passed the budget that defunded Planned Parenthood, many religious right groups demanded that Republicans shut down the government if the Senate does not follow suit. The leader of Priests for Life, Rev. Frank Pavone said, “If that’s the case, then shut it down;” in commenting on the likelihood the Senate did not go along with the House’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood. The Religious Right also supports defunding NPR and PBS because conservative Christians do not support NPR’s alleged liberal bias. Women’s rights have been assailed more than any group by conservative Christians in Congress as well as state legislatures, and there is no apparent end in sight. The religious extremists are in a war and are attacking women, gays, poor people, and the elderly in state and federal legislatures.
Whether Republicans are just using the religious right or are true believers depends on the issue, but their pandering to Dominionists is bearing theocratic fruit they will not be able to contain if it goes any farther because of funding capabilities of religious organizations. John Boehner was directed by a wealthy coalition of right-wing religious groups to take up the defense of DOMA in court. The groups demanding that Boehner defend DOMA included National Association of Evangelicals, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The constitution forbids religion from controlling the government, but there is no prohibition from donating to candidates who do religion’s bidding. It is a stealthy way to circumvent the Separation of Church and State, but it is working and there is no telling how far Boehner and Republicans will go in pandering to the evangelical fundamentalists.
Americans are often fooled by Republicans into voting against their own self-interests, but this religious extremism at the hands of Congress is troubling. There are some Christian groups who reject the fanatical Christian extremism, but they are few and far between. This past week a Catholic group chastised Boehner for cutting programs for the poor, children, women’s health, and the elderly and went so far as to label him “anti-life” for directing inhumane legislation and spending cuts. However, Boehner will sell his soul to the highest bidder and the fanatics allegedly raise a billion dollars a year to fund their theocratic crusade.
In the end, it is up to voters to reject Republicans and teabaggers who are true believers and feel god ordained them to rule America. If Republicans do reject the extremist’s advances, they are in jeopardy of being seen as traitors, and like the teabaggers, the Religious Right will exact revenge during the next election. The religious fanatics are not the majority and yet they control the Republican agenda in Congress. They are also a major force in deciding the Republican nominee for president in 2012 and each of the presidential hopefuls thus far have pandered to the religious right for support in the primaries. At an event in Iowa, 400 members of the clergy heard potential GOP candidates and national religious leaders who urged fundamentalist preachers to campaign from their pulpits in violation of non-profit, tax-exempt status rules for churches.
Anyone who thinks a government run by Christian fundamentalists is impossible or harmless needs to consider the damage Republicans caused women in three months. The Religious Right convinced the Republican majority to abandon job creation or economic fixes in lieu of defunding Planned Parenthood and attacking women’s reproductive rights as well as defending DOMA. There is even talk among the more extremist groups of eliminating the separation clause in the 1st Amendment as a means of installing Christianity as the state religion.
Madison and Jefferson wrote the separation clause into the Constitution to protect the people from oppressive religious zealotry and state-sponsored religion. It is ironic that the groups the Founders sought to protect are now taking over the government. After the 2008 election, many observers assumed the Religious Right would fade away and lose its power and persuasion over Republicans, but the assumption was wrong and Americans are faced with the real possibility of theocracy supplanting democracy, and the bible replacing the Constitution. Hopefully, Americans will see through the covert theocratic takeover and reject the social conservatives’ agenda because if Christian fundamentalists gain control of the Senate and White House, the Founding Fathers’ America will be a theocracy and a 21st Century Inquisition that makes the Taliban seem tame will begin.