Supreme Court comes down on side of churches in New York’s pandemic restrictions on congregation size

November 26, 2020 • 10:00 am

In a new ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s limitation of congregation sizes in churches during the pandemic.  The ruling was split 5-4, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett voting with the conservative majority—affirming the side of the Roman Catholic Church, which brought the suit—while Chief Justice Roberts voted with the liberals. (Had RBG been alive, the vote would have been 5-4 the other way.)  Beside the unsigned majority opinion, there are separate concurring opinions by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, while there are dissenting opinions by Roberts, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor in various combinations.

While the judgment affirmed that Cuomo’s order violated the First-Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion, one shouldn’t assume that the decision was purely one of religious conservatism, for this was a tough call.  You can read the opinion below (the unsigned majority take is short), or read the New York Times article about the decision (click on both screenshots below).

The Times’s article:

This ruling overturns two lower-court decisions affirming Cuomo’s decision to force churches to have 10 or fewer congregants during the “red-zone” phase of the pandemic.  One of the reasons the majority overturned this restriction (which has since been rescinded!) is that the numerical restriction was not imposed on businesses other than churches. Hence, one could construe that this violates the First Amendments “free exercise” provision by discriminating against churches.

From the majority decision:

In a red zone, while a synagogue or church may not admit more than 10 persons, businesses categorized as “essential” may admit as many people as they wish. And the list of “essential” businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services are not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics and all transportation facilities. See New York State, Empire State Development, Guidance for Determining Whether a Business Enterprise is Subject to a Workforce Reduction Under Recent Executive Orders, The disparate treatment is even more striking in an orange zone.  While attendance at houses of worship is limited to 25 persons, even non-essential businesses may decide for themselves how many persons to admit.

Irreparable harm. There can be no question that the challenged restrictions, if enforced, will cause irreparable harm. “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” Elrod v. Burns, 427 U. S. 347, 373 (1976) (plurality opinion). If only 10 people are admitted to each service, the great majority of those who wish to attend Masson Sunday or services in a synagogue on Shabbat will be barred. And while those who are shut out may in some instances be able to watch services on television, such remote viewing is not the same as personal attendance. Catholics who watch a Mass at home cannot receive communion, and there are important religious traditions in the Orthodox Jewish faith that require personal attendance. App. to Application in No. 20A90, at 26–27.

But against this, one could argue, as did Justice Sotomayor in her dissent, that businesses that didn’t have government-specified limits are materially different, in terms of viral spread, from church congregations, especially where congregants are singing loudly. From her dissent:

But JUSTICE GORSUCH does not even try to square his examples with the conditions medical experts tell us facilitate the spread of COVID–19: large groups of people gathering, speaking, and singing in close proximity indoors for extended periods of time.

As I noted, the case appears moot because the numerical limits obtaining at the time of the lawsuit have since been lifted (this was emphasized in the dissents). But the majority opinion took that into account as well, saying that Cuomo’s decision could be reversed, and rather than re-litigate the issue, I presume the court wanted to render an opinion that would be in place should that reversal take place:

The dissenting opinions argue that we should withhold relief because the relevant circumstances have now changed. After the applicants asked this Court for relief, the Governor reclassified the areas in question from orange to yellow, and this change means that the applicants may hold services at 50% of their maximum occupancy. The dissents would deny relief at this time but allow the Diocese and Agudath Israel to renew their requests if this recentreclassification is reversed.

There is no justification for that proposed course of action. It is clear that this matter is not moot. See Federal Election Comm’n v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U. S. 449, 462 (2007); Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U. S. 167, 189 (2000). And injunctive relief is still called for because the applicants remain under a constant threat that the area in question will be reclassified as red or orange. See, e.g., Susan

B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 573 U. S. 149, 158 (2014). The Governor regularly changes the classification of particular areas without prior notice.3 If that occurs again, the reclassification will almost certainly bar individuals in the affected area from attending services before judicial relief can be obtained.

I suppose Left-wing sites might couch this as an unwarranted, pro-faith opinion supported by the usual suspects, who now include Barrett. And that may be the case, but it’s not a cut-and-dried issue. Here are my thoughts:

1.) It is supremely important to uphold the Free Exercise clause, just as it’s important to uphold the entire First Amendment, which includes freedom of speech as well as of worship.

2.) Nevertheless, when public safety is compromised by free exercise of religion, the former trumps the latter, as it has historically. Practicing one’s faith does not give you the right to endanger those who are not of your faith.  This gives courts the power to restrict religious practice if it, for example, is likely to spread coronavirus.

3.) But one cannot discriminate against churches in this respect, imposing sanctions on them that aren’t imposed on similar enterprises like businesses.

4.) HOWEVER, and this is the most important bit for me, is a church with a congregation limit of 10 equivalent to a business like Wal-Mart in which more than ten people are present at once—in a much larger space? I don’t think so, particularly when church congregants sing and pray without masks, a particularly dangerous way of spreading the virus via respiratory droplets.  I’m not sure whether the court’s decision, holding equivalence such as this, is justifiable, and Sotomayor makes that point. This is in fact a public health rather than a legal decision, and is not really within the court’s competence.

5.) As for the restrictions having changed, rendering the original lawsuit moot, I do agree with the majority that given the to-and-fro of restrictions during the pandemic, a judgment was still warranted. Whether this was the right one, I am not sure. But it’s better to have some opinion in place rather than having the matter re-litigated should restrictions once again be imposed.

Perhaps there are lawyers in the crowd here who want to render an opinion, and I have to say that I haven’t scrutinized the entire set of opinions minutely. But this decision doesn’t bother me as much, as, say, ones that pose more serious dangers, including those that restrict abortion or dismantle the Affordable Care Act. But those will be coming, for the court is now solidly conservative—even if Justice Roberts is mellowing in his old age.


Christianity infests the State Department, violating the First Amendment

October 15, 2019 • 8:15 am

Newsweek and HuffPo report that this was the the U.S. Department of State’s homepage yesterday:

I checked a few minutes ago, and the homepage entry has been changed to this:

HuffPo reports this:

The U.S. State Department’s main homepage was updated on Monday to show a photo of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the headline: “Being A Christian Leader.”

The phrase refers to a speech he gave in Nashville last week:

“As believers, we draw on the wisdom of God to help us get it right, to be a force for good in the life of human beings,” Pompeo said in the speech, according to the rest of the remarks on the State Department website. “I know some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work.”

The headline on the State Department homepage was changed later in the day to read: “Secretary Pompeo at the America Association of Christian Counselors.” By nighttime, the page was changed completely to a report about sanctions against Turkey.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State slammed the speech and the government website makeover.

“It’s perfectly fine for Secretary Pompeo to be a leader who is Christian. But he cannot use his government position to impose his faith on the rest of us,” CEO Rachel Laser said in a news release. “That is a fundamental violation of the separation of religion and government.”

Newsweek adds this:

Titled “Being a Christian Leader” and promoted in his official government capacity on the homepage for the State Department, religious and civil liberties organizations have decried it as a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution’s intended separation of church and state.

“I keep a Bible open on my desk, and I try every morning to try and get in a little bit of time with the Book,” Pompeo said, describing how the texts sacred to Christians influences his disposition, engagement with others and decisions. “We should all remember that we are imperfect servants serving a perfect God who constantly forgives us each and every day.”

This was clearly a violation of the First Amendment: you don’t get to tout the Secretary of State as espousing Christian values on a State Department homepage. A Muslim politician from Virginia got it right:

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ government dosh

July 10, 2019 • 10:30 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “fix,” came with two links in the caption:

Maybe you should, Mo. Maybe you should.

This strip based on a story from last year. C of E’s financial status based on this.

This first link reports a warning from the head of the Church Buildings Council that the UK government should cough up £30 million per year to maintain 16,000 church buildings, with the helpful advice that the government maintains church buildings in France and Germany. (France? The land of Laïcité?). The religionists also remind us that we can’t get this dosh from the lottery since lottery funds are declining.

The second link tells us that the Church of England has reserves of £8.3 billion. So why can’t it fix up its own churches? To even ask the public to pay for this stuff is an unconscionable entanglement of church and state. Granted, the UK has no First Amendment (indeed, it has an official state church), but why should taxpayers, many of them nonreligious, have to dig into their own pockets to support houses of worship?


Failure to cause outrage: the Blasphemy investigation of Fry fizzles out

May 10, 2017 • 10:00 am

by Grania Spingies

As many of you may already know, the police investigation into the accusation of blasphemy against Stephen Fry by an anonymous and obsequious finger-wagger has been dropped. As I pointed out, there was never any real chance that Fry would be charged, let alone brought to trial. Ireland’s illiberal and misconceived Blasphemy law was designed to be virtually unenforceable. The 2009 Defamation Act states:

It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates. (Art. 36.3)

The Gardai (police) in this case said they were “unable to find a substantial number of outraged people” and have dropped the charges; so a legal defence never even entered the equation. Michael Nugent, chair of Atheist Ireland, a group that has challenged this law since its inception, pointed out that this “creates an incentive for people to demonstrate outrage when they see or hear something that they believe is blasphemous“. By so acting, the Irish police may have opened a can of worms for themselves and can doubtless expect to have their time wasted by more vexatious reports from upstanding citizens who feel the need to ask the State to punish those they disagree with.

This tepid storm in a teacup has achieved a few things:

One, there’s been the predictable Streisand Effect of having Fry’s putatively blasphemous, and in my view, eminently sensible, statement viewed around the world millions of times.

Two, the shock effect of having someone as famous as Fry even remotely at risk of being criminally prosecuted for utterances so manifestly benign has caused sufficient international embarrassment for the Irish government to once again promise a referendum on the matter. They’ve been promising one since 2010, but have been studiously ignoring the issue ever since.

Three, New Zealand has committed to repealing its own blasphemy law. (Well done NZ!)

There’s been a certain amount of anger on the Internet (I know, shocker, right?) from various Irish activists that this has prompted at least a half-hearted response from certain government officials; while other pressing issues such as the lack of a referendum on access to abortion in Ireland still are not clearly addressed. I am assuming that most of them are completely unaware that the referendum on repealing the blasphemy articles has been on the cards for years and it actually hasn’t been – and still isn’t – fast-tracked to appease Mr Fry.

It’s a fair point, but one that misses the main objection to Ireland having a blasphemy law: while it may be no danger to people in Ireland, it is being used to justify and push for more blasphemy laws by groups such as the OIC at the United Nations. As US attorney Ken White has painstaking pointed out on numerous occasions, blasphemy laws are used virtually exclusively to persecute minority religions wherever they exist. Just today, Ahok, the governor of Jakarta, has been found guilty of blasphemy for referencing a Koranic verse, and was jailed. Needless to say, Ahok is a member of the Christian minority in a Muslim-majority country.

This is how blasphemy laws work: the majority religion silences and punishes minority religions. They do not belong in enlightened societies.

Further reading: Blasphemy in the Christian World

Jesus Christ declared the King of Poland (Mary is already Queen)

November 24, 2016 • 10:00 am

I am not making this up. According to Christian Today, and verified by my Polish friend Malgorzata, the Polish government just accepted Jesus Christ as the country’s king:

Jesus has been declared King of Poland in a ceremony attended by the country’s president Andrzej Duda.

The ceremony was held at the Church of Divine Mercy in Krakow on Saturday and the liturgy was repeated in churches across the country the following day.

According to the Conference of Polish Bishops, it was timed to coincide with the end of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy and 1050th anniversary of Polish Christianity.

The ceremony included the prayer: “In our hearts, rule us, Christ! In our families, rule us, Christ! … In our schools and universities, rule us, Christ! … Through the Polish nation, rule us, Christ! … We pledge to defend your holy worship and preach Thy royal glory, Christ our King, we promise!”

It continued: “We entrust the Polish people and Polish leaders to you. Make them exercise their power fairly and in accordance with your laws. … rule us, Christ! Reign in our homeland and reign in every nation – for the greater glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the salvation of mankind.”

Good God! This of course came from a revelation experienced by a Polish nurse Rosalia Zelkova, who, early in the 20th century, heard voices that told her that Jesus demanded, as a condition for the salvation of Poland in the upcoming war, that he be recognized as the King of Poland. What an arrogant S.O.B. Jesus was!

Right-wing legislators in Poland tried this trick in 2006 but failed, opposed by the Church itself. Now that the Catholic Church has huge power in Poland with the new government’s assent, there was no problem with this declaration.

When I wrote Malgorzata asking if this could be true, she responded:

The story about Jesus becoming the King of Poland is absolutely true. Half of the Polish government was in attendance. This was the reason Andrzej wrote a huge article the other day about “Islam envy” of Polish clergy. The situation here is more absurd than it ever was since the fall of Communism, and we are quickly becoming a theocracy.
But wait! It gets better (or worse)! For a Queen of Poland has already been in power for a long time, and guess who it is? Malgorzata writes:
But do you know that we already have a Queen of Poland and it is none other than Mary, Jesus’s mother? She was taken as a Queen of Poland on April 1, 1656 by the then king, Jan Kazimierz. Three hundred years later, on August 26, 1956 , the Polish Church hierarchy, in the presence of about 1 million believers, repeated the pledge to her as Polish Queen. So now we have both a Queen and a King ruling together. Here is what Polish Wikipedia says about it (unfortunately, there’s no English version):
Polish royalty

h/t: Ginger K.

Tennessee county petitions God to not destroy them for allowing gay marriages

October 7, 2015 • 8:30 am

UPDATE: WBIR television reports this morining that, by a vote of 10-5, the County commission refused to consider the entire agenda, so the “Save Us, God” resolution was tabled. (Be sure to watch the news video at the site showing the supporters of the Tennessee Equality Project). But chairperson Karen Miller vows to reintroduce the resolution.


“You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.”
–Jim Morrison, “The Soft Parade”

I’m not sure how many more posts I’ll do pointing out the kind of inane behaviors prompted by religion in the American South, for by now we all know of many: prayers at football games, Ten Commandments monuments on courthouse lawns, invocations of God’s mercy for saving lives during a tornado (while failing to blame Him for the deaths), and so on. But this one takes the cake, for it’s a serious throwback to the days of the Old Testament.

From The Raw Story (and confirmed by CNN and Liberal America), we hear that the Board of Commissioners of Blount County, Tennessee, considered an unusual item of business at their meeting on Tuesday (yesterday). Here’s the meeting’s agenda; have a close look at item 7:

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 6.31.23 PM

“Petitioning God’s mercy”? Yes, what we have in that item is a resolution sponsored by board chairperson Karen Miller—a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. The resolution condemns the court ruling as immoral and anti-Biblical, and, bizarrely, asks God to spare that Bible-loving county when, as is inevitable, He visits His wrath upon those who dare allow people of one sex to marry others of the same sex.

It’s no surprise that Southerners often object strongly to same-sex marriage (remember the “conscientious objector” Kim Davis?), but it’s a throwback to the Bronze Age for modern Americans to importune God to spare their land from retribution. But they did indeed ask; quotes below are from The Raw Story, but emphasis is mine.

The resolution begins: “Whereas, the Governor, Attorney General, and ALL WE Blount County Legislators have sworn an oath consistent with the moral Law of God (“So Help Me God”) to uphold the Constitution of Tennessee and the Constitution of the United States; and Whereas, the fulfillment of this oath, in the American tradition, may not be read to contradict the written Constitution, Justice, Reason and higher Natural Law…” before turning to Commissioner Miller’s grievances.

Federal judges have once again usurped powers not delegated to them, and have violated Reason, the Rule of Law and Natural Law by purporting to strike down State laws and acts of the People recognizing and protecting Natural Marriage,” it states by way of explaining that Miller believes the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by legalizing same-sex marriage. [JAC: Clearly the real Power was delegated to God.]

Miller’s resolution calls upon “all of the Officers of the State of Tennessee, the Governor, the Attorney General, and the members of the Tennessee Legislature,” to  join the commission in saving “natural marriage,” and defending “the the Moral Standards of Tennessee.”

. . . “We the Blount County Legislature call upon all of the Officers of the State of Tennessee, the Governor, the Attorney General, and the members of the Tennessee Legislature, to join us, and utilize all authority within their power to protect Natural Marriage, from lawless court opinions.”

. . . “WE adopt this Resolution before God that He pass us by in His Coming Wrath and not destroy our County as He did Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring cities. As the Passover Lamb was a means of salvation to the ancient Children of Israel, so we stand upon the safety of the Lamb of God to save us, ” the resolution reads. “WE adopt this Resolution begging His favor in light of the fact that we have been forced to comply and recognize that the State of Tennessee, like so many other God-fearing States, MAY have fallen prey to a lawless judiciary in legalizing what God and the Bible expressly forbids.”

It need hardly be mentioned that such resolutions, by breaching the wall between religion and government, are violations of the Constitution’s First Amendment.

There are of course some sane people in Tennessee, and The Daily Times, the Blount County local paper, reports some pushback in its long article on the resolutiion:

Ginny West Case, a retired Christian educator in the United Methodist Church, said the God of Miller’s resolution doesn’t sound like the God she knows.

“That is not a primary characteristic of the God I know and love,” she said. “I’m tired of God being used as a battering ram. The Bible, over and over, tells us God is the God of love and grace and mercy.”

Well, I’ll take that as a sign of empathy, but Ms. West is still cherry-picking the Bible to find her good God. Other places in Scripture show God as genocidal, solipsistic, and bigoted. Better to appeal to human decency than the Old Testament!

You’ll be amused to see what local Biblical scholars said when the Times contacted them about the Sodom and Gomorrah angle. Like Ms. Case, they manage to interpret the story so it’s not a punishment for homosexuality. That story is, in part, given in Genesis 19:4-5 (King James Version). There Lot proffers his hospitality to three visitors to the city, but the locals demand that the visitors be brought out so they can have anally rape them. Lot refuses and offers his daughters as a carnal substitute.

Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.

So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”

Now one can indeed question whether God destroyed city for lack of proper hospitality or for the citizens’ misguided carnality (would God have destroyed the city if the crowd had accepted Lot’s daughters?). Indeed, Ezekiel 16:49 says this:

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

But since the whole thing is made up anyway, why bother to argue about the “proper” interpretation of the story? That’s like arguing with young-earth creationists about the “proper” interpretation of Genesis. After all, one could make a good case that Lot himself should have been smitten along with everyone else. This kind of witless parsing is what inevitably ensues if you try to justify morality on Biblical grounds.

h/t: Jonathan

Arizona town stipulates that council meetings begin with prayers—but only Christian ones!

September 16, 2015 • 12:00 pm

From The Coolidge Examiner of Coolidge, Arizona (population 11,825), we have a seriously blatant violation of the First Amendment:

Ignoring legal counsel and concerns about a possible lawsuit, a majority of the Coolidge City Council voted Monday to amend a resolution that would allow prayers before council meetings, including a stipulation that they be Christian.

Council members Steve Hudson, Rob Hudelson, Gary Lewis and Tatiana Murrieta all voted in favor of the Christian-only stipulation to the resolution, which was originally written to include ministers from any faith represented within the city limits. Mayor Jon Thompson and Councilman Gilbert Lopez voted against the amended resolution, with Vice Mayor Jacque Henry absent.

There’s a 30-day review period, and then this becomes the town law. These people better think twice about passing the amendment, though, lest they saddle their small town with enormous legal bills brought by an FFRF or ACLU lawsuit:

Should the resolution become final with the Christian-only stipulation, there is a very real possibility of the city being taken to court. Fitzgibbons referenced the 2014 Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed for prayers at council meetings as long as the prayer did not disparage some faiths, and as long as the opportunity to pray is offered to all faiths.

The little town’s newspaper article is long, so go over and read the whole thing if you hear to read about The Town That Never Learns.  You’ll hear about a councilman who said he’d leave the room if somebody said a non-Christian prayer, and about the city’s district attorney advising him that he was within his rights to do that! Another approving city councilman said this: “We just proclaimed Constitution Week. You know what was said at the end of the (Revolutionary) war? A treaty in Paris that said ‘In the name of the most Holy and undivided Trinity.’ You don’t get that from the Quran. You get it from the Bible. You get it from Christianity. That’s our heritage.” [Indeed, the Treaty of Paris does say that, but then the Constitution has the First Amendment.]

A Christian nation?

March 17, 2015 • 9:30 am

by Greg Mayer

In an op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times, the historian Kevin Kruse asks, Is the United States a Christian nation? It is a common claim among Christian theocrats (those whom Andrew Sullivan has aptly called ‘Christianists’) that America is a Christian nation—that somehow the basic structures of the American government are founded upon Christianity. But this claim is just plain false. (A majority of Americans were and are Christians, but that’s not what theocrats mean by a Christian nation). The daftness of their historical claims are sometimes comical in their absurdity. The Founding Fathers had diverse religious views (though tending toward deism and Unitarianism), but it was not their religious diversity that led them to erect a secular state: it was their too-intimate familiarity with the horror of centuries of bloody religious disputation in Europe, especially in the British Isles. America was not to have a religiously founded government; rather, the governments of the United States were, as John Adams wrote in the Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, “founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery”.

Kruse, the author of One Nation Under God, of course knows this, and quickly dispenses with the theocrats’ historical fantasy. Instead he situates the infusion of Christianity into the forms of American government to the middle of the 20th century:

But the founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did.

He attributes this infusion to conservative, anti-New Deal businessmen using Christianity as a cloak to cover their economic goals:

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity….

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns.

They succeeded, they thought, when they elected Dwight Eisenhower; but Eisenhower, once elected, abandoned their economic goals as well as their narrow sectarianism:

Although Eisenhower relied on Christian libertarian groups in the campaign, he parted ways with their agenda once elected. The movement’s corporate sponsors had seen religious rhetoric as a way to dismantle the New Deal state. But the newly elected president thought that a fool’s errand. “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs,” he noted privately, “you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” Unlike those who held public spirituality as a means to an end, Eisenhower embraced it as an end unto itself.

Uncoupling the language of “freedom under God” from its Christian libertarian roots, Eisenhower erected a bigger revival tent, welcoming Jews and Catholics alongside Protestants, and Democrats as well as Republicans. Rallying the country, he advanced a revolutionary array of new religious ceremonies and slogans.

He’s certainly right that “under God” and other such phrases were established—in pretty clear violation of the Constitution—during the 50’s, although he doesn’t, at least in this piece, sufficiently credit the fear of “godless Communism”. However, I don’t fully accept his main thesis: where I think he’s off is in ascribing to the public Christianity of the middle of the 20th century a Chamber-of-Commerce, pro-business, and Republican, character.

Speaking from of my own experience, it was not until considerably later, around 1980 and the rise of Ronald Reagan, that Christianity became a partisan political ideology. Reagan and his ilk redefined Christianity as a particular set of right-wing beliefs. Prior to this time, the word “Christian” had a rather different, non-sectarian, meaning: the “Christian” thing to do was the just, merciful, compassionate thing to do. Reagan made it mean essentially the opposite: judgmental, unforgiving, self righteous. Before Reagan, Christian values were more associated with liberal than with conservative causes.

This was a considerable change in the meaning of the word “Christianity”, and also marked the start of the now decades-long decline of the Republican party. The meaning of Christian became narrow not just politically, but also theologically. I was surprised to learn in the early 1990’s that Catholics were no longer “Christians” in common parlance (although there may be a regional dialectical difference at work here too). This narrowness of religious meaning of course reinforces the restriction of “Christian” to particular political doctrines.

Christianity is not a thing with an essence, but rather whatever it is that Christians do, and that has often been viciously reactionary. But its conversion to becoming the handmaiden of the right wing in America is a more recent event (ca. 1980) than Kruse allows, and is associated with a particular political movement, Reaganism, which though ideologically related to the efforts Kruse identifies, occupies its own distinct place and time in American history.

Is the devil in Lebanon, Missouri?

June 10, 2014 • 5:07 am

Here’s an update on the poll taken by the Lebanon Daily Record on Principal Lower’s graduation prayer.  As you may recall, the paper polled readers about whether Lower’s prayer was appropriate for graduation.   You can see the results by going to the Lowery-loving column by Katie Hilton, “Hats off for Lowery!“, and then clicking back to “home” at the upper left to see the poll’s results at the bottom of the front page.

A reader informed me of the results, sending a screenshot a few minutes ago.  Curiously enough, they were firmly against Lowery’s behavior.

But what is really funny is one datum: the percentage of respondents saying that Lowery’s remarks weren’t appropriate. Here’s a screenshot I just took:

Picture 1


66.6%: The mark of the Beast!

Coincidence? Or is Basement Cat in Lebanon? You be the judge. I would, however, urge the residents of the town to think about the meaning of this omen.

I should also note that Lebanon is famous for having been a stop on the old transcontinental highway, Route 66.

From the Route 66 Museum and Research Center
From the Route 66 Museum and Research Center ( Not MY town!

“We Christians out number you”: more venom from Lebanon

June 9, 2014 • 8:03 am

UPDATE: I’m adding one comment I found on Facebook’s “Standing strong with Kevin Lowery” page:

Screen shot 2014-06-09 at 11.06.21 AM

It’s unbelievable: these people feel uncomfortable UNLESS God is mentioned constantly—and, in this case, illegally.  Sometimes I feel I’m living on a different planet from these people.


Here are a couple of comments from the Fox News story on Lebanon, Missouri’s praying-principal issue, “Missouri principal wows crowd, angers atheists with guarded ‘God’ references“.

Screen shot 2014-06-09 at 7.49.41 AM

I love the last comment, with “god” in lower case. But there’s a reason why people like Davidd1975 are sometimes called “the Christian Taliban.” Imagine if they ran the country! Could we still drink and dance?

Refreshingly, though, there’s a lot of pro-secularism comments on that thread, which surprised me.

In the meantime, a few more students and residents of Lebanon have overcome their fears and written to me in support of the First Amendment and against the relentless proselytizing of Lebanon High School, its principal, and its supporters. I hope to publish the thoughts of these dissenters later today. But in the meantime, what started as a simple criticism of a legal violation has become, for me, a fascinating glimpse into a part of American society that is widespread, but one that I don’t often hear from. Fascinating, but scary.