The cover of Newsweek (April 13, 2009) announced, in text hammered into the shape of a cross, "The decline and fall of Christian America." That is like announcing that we have cured world hunger. Both assertions are ridiculous and easily proven wrong.
The election of Barack Obama has wounded the Christian right, but not mortally by any means. Forget not that 49 million Americans voted for a ticket that could have made Sarah Palin the president of our country. Those people have not converted to secular liberalism.
Three seemingly unrelated headlines in the news last week together weave a story that proves false Newsweek's dangerously naive assertion. The three stories are: Obama's arrival in Turkey on Sunday night, the nomination of David Hamilton to the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and a lawsuit to investigate political activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Separating Church and State: No Longer Mainstream
Obama's nomination of Federal District Judge Hamilton to the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals created controversy for all the wrong reasons. The nominee's crime? Hamilton holds a strict view on the question of separating church and state. As witness to our subtle slide toward theocracy, let's examine his ruling and why the far right is so exercised about his findings. In 2005, Hamilton ruled that the Indiana legislature could not, as was common practice in the state, invoke Jesus Christ in offering prayer to open legislative sessions. Nondenominational prayers could be offered. That's all. Yet his ruling has become a factor in his nomination.
That such mainstream thinking has become controversial is a dangerous signal we have trouble ahead. Newsweek's cover story this week about the "decline and fall of a Christian nation" could not be more off the mark.
Remember that our constitution states that the legislature "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Invoking Jesus Christ, clearly the reigning symbol of Christianity, violates that constitutional prohibition. The use of explicit imagery exclusively associated with one religion in this setting is unambiguously unconstitutional. The Indiana legislature showed callous disregard for our founding document and everybody who is not Christian. Hamilton rightly corrected that injustice. That he is being criticized for upholding the Constitution testifies to just how deeply religion has penetrated into our supposedly secular government.
Slide Toward Theocracy
President Obama's recent visit to Turkey reminds us how easily a secular government can succumb to religious fervor. Nowhere else is the tension between secular and religious government more clear than in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently pushed for a repeal of the ban on hijab (head scarves) at universities as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the growing strength of Islam in Istanbul. This is after reassuring the electorate that his ties to the Islamic party would not influence policy. He has also worked to criminalize adultery and introduce "alcohol-free zones" in further appeasement of those seeking to create a religious society.
That may all sound distant to our lives here in the United States, but in fact the parallels are frighteningly close. More than 70% of Americans think the United States is a Christian nation. How far removed is that from those working to make Turkey an Islamic nation? This overwhelming majority here back home seems to ignore the fact that at no time, not once, is God mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. We are sliding toward a theocracy dominated by Christian thought in direct contradiction to the wishes of our Founding Fathers.
Dangers of a Theocracy
Banning headscarves is child's play compared to what is happening here in the United States. Even with President Obama mercifully working to overturn the perilous policies of his predecessor, the religious right marches on undaunted. The National Association for the Advancement of Preborn Children has accused Obama of "enslaving embryos," and has sued the government on behalf of embryo "Mary Scott Doe" to halt support for stem cell research.
Here in the U.S. those seeking a religious society want the government:
1. in the examining room with doctor and patient to tell a woman what to do with her body, and put both doctor and patient in jail if fail to conform to religious teachings;
2. in our bedrooms to enforce anti-sodomy laws;
3. in our classrooms to teach religious doctrine about evolution;
4. in our universities to prevent research on stem cells (now battling at the state level); and
5. to display religious doctrine in public places and courtrooms
All this sounds suspiciously like the agenda of the Islamists in Turkey. But the parallels do not end here. Just as secularists in Istanbul worry that Islamists are secretly influencing government policies behind closed doors, beyond public scrutiny, so too are churches in the United States secretly financing political activities to influence social policy behind the public's back.
Californians Against Hate have filed charges with the California Fair Political Practices Commission to unearth to what degree the Mormon Church provided financial support for Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage. The lawsuit stems from a financing scheme that church officials originally denied. They then lied about the magnitude of the program when discovered. The original story from the church was that they had no involvement in any political activities. Then when contrary evidence was revealed, officials admitted to a $55,000 fund to support Prop 8. When that was revealed to be false, church officials owned up to a level of support equaling $134,774 through a false front created under the banner of the National Organization for Marriage in California. More could be forthcoming. All this begs the question: how is this any different from Islamists working behind the scenes to institute Shari'a law in Turkey?
Tax exempt 501(c)(3) organizations earn that status by remaining politically neutral. By definition, any overt political activity would cause an organization to lose the exemption. Could anybody deny that the LDS Church is just another political action committee after spending $140,000 to pass a specific piece of legislation?
Elated by the election of President Obama, we forgot that we have won a battle but not the war. The far right pushes on, fighting state by state to ban the teaching of evolution, to ban stem cell research, to ban gay marriage, and to introduce prayer in school and the display of religious imagery in public spaces.
In a press conference in Turkey, President Obama said: "One of the great strengths of the United States is ... we have a very large Christian population -- we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." If only that were the case. Instead, 70% of the population believes otherwise. When Obama stepped off Air Force One onto the tarmac in Ankara he seemed to be visiting a distant and foreign land. In fact, he was stepping into what could be our future if we are not careful. Christian American is alive and well. Beware.