Unseparating Church and State

November 3, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

Republicans tend to be Second Amendment absolutists.  The NRA and their representatives in Congress haven’t yet weighed in on the specific issue of, say, banning assault rifles in airports, but they just might argue that such a law would be an unconstitutional infringement of the right to bear arms. “Shall not be infringed” means no infringement, even of AK-47s in LAX.

Then there’s First Amendment. It begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but when it comes to the Establishment Clause, Republican ideas become a bit less absolutist, a bit more nuanced.  Here are the results of a recent YouGov survey (pdf  here).  The question was , “Would you favor or oppose establishing Christianity as the official state religion in your state?”

Democrats and Independents oppose the establishment of Christianity – “strongly oppose” is their modal response.  But a majority of Republicans favor making their state a Christian state, and of those, most (two-thirds) are in the “strongly favor” pew. 

This is not to say that Republicans are unaware of the Establishment Clause.  “Based on what you know, would you think that states are permitted by the constitution to establish official state religions, or not?”

Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to say that the Constitution does not permit state religions.  They just think that on this one, the framers of the Constitution got it wrong. 

When the question was about the nation rather than just “your state,” Republicans were nearly as enthusiastic about establishing Christianity for the nation as for their state.  “Would you favor or oppose a Constitutional amendment which would make Christianity the official religion of the United States?”

A plurality, 46% – almost a majority – want to correct the Framers’ careless omission by amending the Constitution, a document, by the way, in which the words “God” and “Toyota” appear with equal frequency, but I assume that the Republicans would want to change that too and rewrite the preamble to include God and perhaps Jesus. Their model seems to be The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We would be The Christian Republic of the United States of America. 

We can’t know specifically what the people who favor establishment have in mind by making Christianity the official religion of a state or of the nation. Republicans themselves probably differ in their ideas. Maybe only symbolic gestures, like invoking Jesus’s blessing on public events. Maybe public indoctrination – requiring Christian prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Or maybe more tangible forms of support – turning taxpayers’ money directly over to Christian organizations for explicitly religious purposes. 

Nobody really imagines that establishment will happen, but a conservative still can dream.* And meanwhile, they can continue the indirect establishment of religion that has come with government-supported “faith-based initiatives.”

* The Christianists have friends in places where it counts – the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia apparently thinks that the cross is a symbol of the nation rather than the emblem of a religion.  In a post four years ago (here) I compared his view to the saying “It’s Sinatra’s world, we just live in it.”  That may be funny when it’s about Ol’ Blue Eyes. But Scalia and the other Christian theocrats are telling us, “The US is  Christianity’s world; we’re just allowed to live in it.” Non-Christians are not amused.

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