It is well-known that many of the original European immigrants came to the US seeking freedom to practice their own versions of religion. For example, the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock had faced persecution in England when they quit the Church of England and established their own congregation in violation of the Act of Uniformity of 1559. The Quakers who settled Pennsylvania had faced similar persecution in England and Netherlands. Indeed, it was the hope of religious freedom that brought people of many denominations and faiths to the “New World,” including those who practiced Judaism and Islam. Yet, even in colonial America, many people were still subjected to religious persecution. In Virginia, Baptists and Presbyterians faced persecution from members of the Church of England. Similarly, other states established official religions forcing all residents to support the state church with their taxes.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Framers of the Constitution included the separation clause that forbade the establishment of state-sponsored religions?
Yet there are still those who have falsely denied that was the Framers’ intent. And they have continued to demand that our government proclaim the United States of America a Christian nation. Their demands only increased following the attacks on 9/11 which were carried out by Muslim extremists. Of course, they ignore the fact that many acts of terrorism carried out against Americans are committed by home-grown Christian terrorists.
In their push for conformity, these Christian zealots are, in effect, attempting to impose the type of discrimination their ancestors escaped. In fact, as a result of US tax policy, they are already engaged in a form of discrimination. Since all church property, even that used by church-owned businesses, is classified as tax-exempt, all Americans are forced to support their place of worship, including the 29 percent of Americans who do not attend a church. What if we did the same for private clubs? For other organizations?
Ironically, some of the darkest days in our history have been marked by discrimination excused and even promoted by religious leaders: Discrimination against people of different denominations and faiths or of no faith, discrimination against Native Americans, against people of color, and against the LGBTQ community. Religion has even been used to support slavery and war.
I believe that today’s religious fervor is fueled by fear – fear that religion is losing its sway. It’s not the first time. In the 1950s, Christian conservatives used the fear of communism to call for the end of separation of church and state. They pushed Congress to change the nation’s original motto from “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one) to “In God We Trust.” They succeeded in adding their new motto to all US currency. Under the same pretense, they got “Under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance. They also pushed for a National Day of Prayer which, not surprisingly, is almost entirely dedicated to Christian evangelism.
More recently, the GOP has aligned with conservative religious leaders to rile up its voting base by preaching “family values” from the pulpit. Not coincidentally, these values tend to encourage discrimination against women, gays, lesbians, transgender individuals, and people of color – all supported by the selective reading of the Bible.
And the influence of conservative religious leaders on the GOP has continued to gain momentum. The GOP and their evangelical Christian supporters have pushed for “freedom of religion” laws intended to make it legal for business owners to deny products and services to gays and lesbians. Some evangelical Christians have meddled in US foreign policy by investing in Jewish settlements on the West Bank based on the bizarre belief that the Messiah will return when the Holy Land is united under Jewish control. They support Putin’s Russia because he supports many of their narrow-minded views of Christianity. And they have been able to summon their faithful to help elect a president who would embrace their hatreds.
That’s right, Christian evangelicals have anointed Donald J. Trump, the pussy grabber himself, as the “chosen one.”
Their hypocrisy is stunning. They’re willing to ignore the fact that Trump has gleefully broken most of their 10 Commandments. Why? Because they see him as someone who, as long as they proclaim fealty to him, will do their bidding. Someone who will continue to pack the courts with ideological judges who will carry forward their hateful and narrow views on abortion and discrimination. Someone who will give them power to rewrite our laws, maybe even the Constitution itself. Someone who will institute God’s law as they themselves define it. Someone who will proclaim the US a Christian theocracy presided over by a leader “chosen by God.”
If we allow that to happen, the US will have come full circle. And we will require another revolution to achieve freedom from persecution.