It is absurd that we would be drawn so often back to the “War on Christianity” meme that seems to form the heart and core of every Republican campaign in 2012. Even the battles surrounding issues like marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights are framed in terms of “religious freedoms under attack” as though somebody is being told they can’t practice their religion if other people have an equal amount of liberty. And rather than focusing on the absurdity of claiming persecution on the basis of equal rights, the media legitimizes the Republican narrative as something deserving discussion.
Newt Gingrich likes to harp on the subject of “religious freedom” as much as the next Republican. Of course, as we have shown here repeatedly, the phrase “religious freedom” is a stand-in for something else: the privileging of Christian belief over all other forms of belief – or disbelief. Religious freedom should mean equal freedoms for all with regards to belief and that is what the First Amendment establishes by prohibiting government establishment of religion, originally applied to the federal government in the First Amendment and later applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment in the wake of the Civil War.
But this isn’t what the GOP wants. The conservative Christian-driven GOP wants the establishment of Christianity as a state-sponsored religion in contravention of the First Amendment and all rhetoric directed at the topic is toward this end and this end alone. Newt Gingrich is no different. CBN claimed Monday evening to have received a document from the Gingrich campaign that shows how seriously their candidate takes this mythical war on Christianity. According to The Brody File, they “obtained an exclusive document that lays out in detail Newt Gingrich’s plan on day one of his administration to create, through Executive Order, a Presidential Commission on Religious Freedom in the United States.”
The document has been posted on Newt.org as of Tuesday in all its dubious glory. It would obviously have been crafted (and leaked) to show how serious he is on the subject of “religious freedom.” It would also demonstrate that Gingrich is well aware of how important it is that he makes a serious attempt to draw conservative Christian voters away from Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, who have more God-cred than does he, especially at a time when Newt is struggling with falling poll numbers. The Brody File further claims that “While Gingrich knows this commission will be welcomed by conservative evangelicals (read: key primary voters), this should not be read as an attempt to pander.”
But it is. A more blatant case of pandering cannot be imagined at this point, and we’ve already seen some truly egregious pandering on the part of GOP candidates.
We already have the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI), established by George W. Bush and maintained and enhanced (as well as renamed) by President Barack Obama, but putting Christianity in the federal government isn’t enough for Gingrich. The others may talk, he seems to be saying, but I have the cojones to actually scrap that pesky First Amendment once and for all and stop the spread of what he likes to call “pagan culture.”
“Examine and document threats or impediments to religious freedom in the United States and to propose steps for reaffirming and protecting the foundational principle of freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief upon which our republic is built and thrives.”
Translation: to wage war on secularists, atheists, pagans and everyone else who dares object to what Christians see as their right to completely ignore the First Amendment, or to repurpose it as a document establishing Christianity as America’s state religion.
According to the Brody File, Gingrich says that “Today, the foundations of religious freedom in this country are being eroded as never before.”
Gingrich pretends to adhere to the First Amendment but read what he says about religious pluralism in light of the Christian position that it alone possesses access to some ultimate, capital-T Truth:
A commitment to religious pluralism—or affording every individual’s religious beliefs the equal protection of the law—is not the same as saying all beliefs are equal.
This is a long-standing Christian position. Pope Benedict XVI certainly agrees and his position is that truth trumps tolerance, which seems also to be the point Gingrich is angling at.
Gingrich claims that anti-religious viewpoints are being forced on people when of course, the opposite is the problem. What he is really saying is that those who do not subscribe to Christian interpretations of morality and various social issues do not have the same rights as Christians because not all beliefs are equal. Far from it, Christian belief is more equal than others and atheists have no right to non-belief at all.
When the document talks about “promoting greater religious freedom” what it is talking about is promoting Christianity at the expense of other forms of belief and non-belief. It is saying, like Bachmann and Perry and pseudo-historian David Barton, that Christianity is indeed the basis of the American system of government and that the Founding Fathers were wrong. Rather than legislating from the bench, as he claims “activist” judges do, Gingrich proposes to legislate after the fact, redressing perceived imperfections in the First Amendment by stressing Christian pre-eminence (Christianity didn’t even get a nod, let alone a mention, in the U.S. Constitution).
Gingrich is desperate, as this document proves and he has just upped the ante, putting other Republican candidates in a position to demonstrate their own devotion to the myth of Christian America.