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The Conservative Theocracy is Winning
The enterprise to destroy our secular society is picking up steam.
It’s hardly a secret that the modern Republican party in the United States is an enterprise dedicated to a particular form of Christian Nationalism. Their goal for decades now — one they’ve trumpeted loudly and unambiguously — has been to use the government to enshrine theocratic values and priorities at the expense of everyone else, sold under the auspices of pleasant-sounding abstracts like “freedom” and “choice,” even though the future they want contains neither.
The past few weeks in particular have felt as if that project gained significant, undeniable momentum. To put it another way: the theocrats are winning.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court 6-3 ruling in Carson v Makin, which forces Maine to allow public funds to cover tuition at religious schools — specifically, in this case, Bangor Christian Schools (BCS) and Temple Academy, both Christian institutions. (In fact, nowhere in the ruling do the words “Judaism” or “Islam” appear, while “Buddhism” appears once, in Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent; you can imagine a quite different ruling if the case concerned madrassas.) As Justice Sonia Sotomayor states plainly in the very first sentence of her dissenting opinion: “this Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.” Crucially, once that wall is dismantled, a national network of Christian schools is already in place to reap the benefits of federal funding, without any of the oversight applied to their secular counterparts. This comes after Conservatives have spent the past year demonizing and disempowering public schools simply for teaching that racism is bad, transgender people are people, and public health is important. Taken in total, it’s easy to see developments as a congruent tactic to undermine American public secular life.
And there are more reasons to believe that the theocracy is winning these days. On Monday, Conservative law professor and legal theory muckety-muck Josh Blackman published what he called his “Tentative Thoughts On The Jewish Claim To A ‘Religious Abortion’,” in response to Boca Raton synagogue L’Dor va-Dor’s lawsuit challenging Florida’s 15-week abortion ban. That ban, synagogue rabbi and practicing civil rights attorney Barry Silver argues, is blatantly unconstitutional for blocking what is not simply a right, but an imperative under traditional Jewish law to end a pregnancy under certain conditions. Per Blackman’s expert opinion, however, Silver’s suit is likely to be thrown out, since the Rabbi and his congregation aren’t observant enough Jews to have standing in their case. As he argues (emphasis mine):
If a person treats 99.9% of halacha [traditional Jewish law] as non-binding--including far more deeply-rooted rules governing Kosher slaughter and sabbath observance--yet deems as binding the interpretation of halacha that affects abortion, I think the person's sincerity can be challenged. To be precise, this person may sincerely believe that her religion allows--and perhaps even encourages--an abortion in such cases, but does not sincerely believe that religion compels this action such that the prohibition substantially burdens her exercise. The legal concept of a "substantial burden," which was developed in the context of Christian faiths, does not neatly map onto a Jewish faith that does not actually impose any requirements on congregants, but instead only offers aspirational principles.
As in the SCOTUS Maine case, the façade of expansive religious freedom here — at least per Blackman’s reasoning — is again pulled back to reveal a system fundamentally built to empower Conservative theocracy, rather than pluralistic expressions of faith.
Lastly, let’s mosey on down to Texas, where the state GOP convention in Houston wrapped up this weekend with the passage of a 40-page party platform rife with the sort of homophobic, secessionist, me-me-me whining that would be right at home in a 800-message long Reddit thread originally intended as a benign comment about My Little Pony or something. Much of the headlines around the platform have (understandably) focused on how it calls gay people “abnormal” and asserts that Joe Biden is “not legitimately elected by the people of the United States,” but within this foundational document from the party in charge of one of the most conservative states in the country is the same sort of nod to the Christian theocratic enterprise seen in the examples above. Here’s the platform’s section on “Religious Freedom of Speech and Practice”:
Religious Freedom of Speech and Practice: As America is “one nation under God,” founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship as they choose. We strongly believe in Religious Freedom and Freedom of Speech. Therefore, we demand:
a. The repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which assaults the free speech of pastors and religious organizations.
b. Protection of the First Amendment rights of any citizen to practice their religion and exercise their right to free speech in the public square, as well as in religious organization affiliations.
c. That Texas judges and legislators uphold and defend our God-given unalienable rights of religious liberty and freedom of speech, and we oppose any effort to intimidate and prevent Christians and other people of faith from exercising these rights which the civil government is required, by the First Amendment, to protect.
d. Acknowledgement that the Church is a God-ordained institution with a sphere of authority separate from that of civil government, and thus the Church is not to be regulated, controlled, or taxed by any level of civil government. Nor shall services or other church functions ever again be shut down or suspended by over-reaching civil authorities under any pretext whatever.
Here, too, are the same bad faith feints toward neutrality, with lip service given to “other people of faith” and “Judeo-Christian principles” (just say Christian, okay?). But read in total, it’s hard to see this official plank of a major political party in a major state as anything other than a full-throated affirmation of conservative Christianity as the baseline for the Texas GOP. This is a document for the theocracy, by the theocrats, in the service of expanding their theocratic agenda.
As Texas Monthly notes, much of the platform is in fact a rehash of previous planks and policies using slightly altered language and featuring some 2022-specific references. But unlike in years past, we currently stand at the cusp of a conservative supreme court nullification of abortion rights, and in the middle of a satanic panic-style effort to condemn drag brunches — to say nothing of the mere existence of transgender people — as evidence of a “groomer” pedophiliac plot. In that context, the Texas GOP’s platform, recycled as it may be, is finally a document of its theocratic time, rather than ahead of it.
These are just a few, disparate examples from the past week. But looking around, it’s easy to feel like things are picking up steam, that we’re accelerating toward something even worse than where we are right now. The conservative theocracy is winning. It’s moving fast. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.