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May 12 2014

Greece v Galloway and the Christian Right Long Game

Katherine Stewart has an op-ed column in the New York Times about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Greece v Galloway in which she identifies the Christian right’s long-term strategy with that and similar cases. I think her analysis is accurate, if a bit incomplete.

To understand why the case’s backers were so cock-a-hoop, you must first know something about the long game being played by the religious right. The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.

This was more or less the situation in the United States during the first half of the 19th century. In 1811, the New York Supreme Court upheld a conviction for blasphemy (the archetypal union of church and state) on the grounds that the state had an interest in punishing offenses to the religious sensibilities of the Protestant majority. Back then, nativist Protestants imposed their version of the Bible in public schools, while Catholics rioted in protest and placed their children in parochial schools.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the judicial thinking on church-state issues evolved, and the “soft” establishment became much harder to justify. The United States Supreme Court introduced the “Lemon test,” for example. Named for a 1971 case the court heard, this required that legislation concerning religion should not result in “excessive government entanglement” with religious affairs. The Supreme Court also increasingly took the view that government should abstain from any activity wherein a reasonable observer might perceive it to be endorsing religion.

Today, groups like the A.D.F. — which also represents Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in its challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act — are deeply unhappy with the reigning jurisprudence on church-state separation. It would seem that they wish to undermine the Lemon test, which they consider “burdensome,” as a staging post to restoring a soft establishment of Christianity in the United States. This is where Greece v. Galloway comes in.

I think this is true, though I would add that there are many among the Christian right that want an establishment that is not nearly so soft. The “mainstream” Christian right includes unabashed theocratic dominionists like Bryan Fischer, who claims that only Christianity is protected by the First Amendment. Like the rest of the conservative movement, the Christian right has been driven even further to the right in recent years. This is almost certainly the result of their justifiable fear that they are losing their grip on society as LGBT people gain greater equality.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    First Ammendment :

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

    Note from wiki :

    Justice Hugo Black wrote:

    The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another … in the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State’ … That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.[11]

    Emphasis added.

    Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Ammendment

    Okay, seriously, how hard can that be understand and follow? Where the hell can one get the idea from that that it applies to Christians only?

  2. 2
    Artor

    “Where the hell can one get the idea from that that it applies to Christians only?”

    Well, if you’ve been brought up to believe that history is liberal lies, and educated people are “of the devil,” except for that godly man David Barton, then OF COURSE the 1st Amendment only applies to Xians. It would be silly to respect some false religion like Islam or Witchcraft. Duh!

  3. 3
    Pierce R. Butler

    Current Supreme Court majority faction motto:

    When life gives you a Lemon – disregard that precedent!

  4. 4
    D. C. Sessions

    Never forget that the Constitution means what five Justices on the Supreme Court says it means, neither more nor less. If you’re not clear on this, try telling the cop who’s just searched your house without a warrant in Tucson (because it’s within 100 miles of the border) or confiscated your new car under “civil forfeiture” that the Constitution requires a warrant and confiscation of property without due process of law.

    But don’t be surprised to wake up in the security ward of a hospital if you do.

  5. 5
    raven

    The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.

    I don’t think this will work, long term. History isn’t on their side.

    1. Xianity is split into 42,000 sects, all claiming to be the One True Xian Cult. A lot of them don’t much like each other.

    2. Us xianity is dying, killed off by the fundies. They are losing 1%, 2 million members a year.

    3. Retention rates of young people are low. The SBC’s numbers are 30%.

    4. People hate to have a religion imposed on them. The more the Oogedy Boogedys try to force their perversion of xianity on us, the more atheists and ex-xians there are.

    It worked for me. When I collided with the fundies, I was an apolitical…Xian. The fundies created the New Atheists.

  6. 6
    Modusoperandi

    ITS THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE, NOT THE SOFT ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE!!! CHECKMATE ATHIESTS!

  7. 7
    raven

    The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.

    This isn’t right.

    Most of the fundie leaders are xian Dominionists who openly hate the USA and the US constitution.

    They don’t want to influence the USA. They want a theocracy, they want power, and they want to rule us.

  8. 8
    loren

    Stewart is awfully dismissive of the Marsh v. Chambers precedent, considering that even the DISSENT agreed it was correctly decided. From Kagan’s opinion:

    “I do not contend that principle translates here into a bright separationist line. To the contrary, I agree with the Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), upholding the Nebraska Legislature’s tra­dition of beginning each session with a chaplain’s prayer. And I believe that pluralism and inclusion in a town hall
    can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality; such a forum need not become a religion-free zone.”

  9. 9
    Michael Heath

    Katherine Stewart writes:

    . . . you must first know something about the long game being played by the religious right. The goal is to get back to a “soft” establishment of religion in America — that is, a system in which formal guarantees of religious freedom and the official separation of church and state remain in place, but one religion is informally or implicitly acknowledged as the “approved” religion of the majority and a legitimate basis for public policy.

    There’s no evidence this is a conscience strategy, that would require this group to have a grip on reality, history, and all the premises in play. Instead this is merely where we are. That’s the result of conservative Christians’ successful efforts in public policy and electoral victories where the motivation goes well beyond a “soft” establishment rule.

  10. 10
    Crimson Clupeidae

    The good news: If this trend does continue, one of the religions will do the secularist’s work for us. See, e.g. the bible riots of 184X. (Don’t make me look it up!)

    The bad news: It could potentially suck for atheists and minority religions until that happens, and lots of people could suffer or even be killed in the upheaval.

  11. 11
    dcsohl

    1844.

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