Well, the Religious Right Had a Good Week…

The religious right and conservative Republicans have never shied away from attempting to pass bogus, religiously influenced legislation. It has been a constant battle for secularists, and frankly, it’s one of the reasons the American Humanist Association exists. But, since the election of Donald Trump, the GOP’s Christian-American “patriotism” has been amplified, introducing countless discriminatory bills that allegedly “protect” their faith. Their incessant rhetoric on “Christian persecution” and so-called “American values” guarantee them the support they need to get their legislation passed.

More importantly, not only has new and proposed unconstitutional legislation increased, but the unconstitutionality of proposed bills seems to be more blatant. This shouldn’t be a surprise since Republicans have a majority in Congress. They feel emboldened, powerful. Toddlers go through a similar stage when they start to discover their independence—suddenly you’ve got a deceptive little hellraiser who’s constantly testing your limits with new favorite words like “no,” “mine,” and “Fox News.”

Admittedly, a toddler not sharing toys is less threatening than a politician refusing service to LGBTQ individuals, or allowing prayer in schools, or banning abortion and reproductive healthcare services.

Last week was a doozy for constitutional rights. First the United States Supreme Court twisted the Establishment Clause in its ruling in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, whose child care center was granted access to state funded programs to update their playground. This ruling was not only negligent, but could be a wrecking ball to the church-state wall. As AHA’s legal intern, Robert Tucci, wrote, “While it’s not quite Armageddon for the Jeffersonian wall of separation, the Supreme Court is definitely kicking sand in our face. The religious right is no doubt going to open the floodgates of litigation to test the limits of this ruling.”

Meanwhile, Mississippi is inching its way closer to enacting what’s being called the worst anti-LGBTQ legislation in US history. Mississippi’s HB 1523 is an outright attack on the LGBTQ community, and pretty much anyone who isn’t strictly Christian. This law, called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” states that marriage is recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are reserved for married couples, and the labels of male or female refer to “an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”  In a nutshell, based on one’s religion or “conscience,” it will be legal to deny LGBTQ Americans goods and services (including medical), marriage licenses, or anything related to a marriage celebration including accommodations and facilities. One can even be denied the purchase or rental of housing, and the government will take no action against businesses who deny services to same-sex couples or establish anti-transgender bathrooms. An unmarried woman could even lose her job if her employer’s religion does not tolerate premarital sex, and there would be no penalty. What year is it again?

Kentucky passed a bill that will allow the Bible to be taught in public schools as an elective. On the surface, this law seems constitutional as the lawmakers insist the classes will be used to teach the religious text in a historical context, which can be intellectually beneficial. However, the move has civil liberties organizations worried that it will become an opportunity to proselytize Christianity. This was the concern of Kentucky ACLU Advocacy Director Kate Miller when she told local news station WDRB that the law could “in fact become unconstitutional in its implementation.” It’s a legitimate fear when one of the bill’s sponsors, State Rep. D.J. Johnson (R), says, “[The Bible] really did set the foundation that our founding fathers used to develop documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.” Governor Matt Bevin insists “You could be an atheist, and you would appreciate there’s a lot of wisdom in the Bible.” That is exactly the problem: teaching the wisdom of the Bible is not a history lesson, it’s a religious one.

It seems that conservative Republicans and the religious right have shifted from simply trying to see what they can get away with to completely altering what “constitutional” means. They are challenging the separation of church and state promised by the US Constitution in the name of their “religious liberty” by enacting policies that discriminate against certain groups of people and undermine the religious neutrality public institutions are supposed to uphold. One wonders what they’ve got in store for us next.