'A Triumph for Fanatics': The Erosion of the Separation Between Church and State
Heidi Siegmund Cuda investigates what is happening to the US Constitutional separation of church and state and how to reverse the fanatic trend
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”—First Amendment, US Constitution
Speaking of himself in third person, House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, said on Fox News:
“What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun, and I said, ‘Go pick a bible off your shelf, and read it. That’s my worldview.”
Putting a religious zealot in such a powerful position is an authoritarian shock event, said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the author of Strongmen — Mussolini to the Present.
"What a triumph for fanatics everywhere to have this person as House Speaker,” she tweeted.
The erosion of the US Constitutional protection — freedom of religion — has been decades in the making.
In 1981, an Arizona Republican Senator named Barry Goldwater — an arch-conservative — gave a speech on the Senate floor and continued the conversation with a reporters’ breakfast.
"I don't like the New Right," Goldwater said. "What they're talking about is not conservatism."
He asked people to "look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon”. He said most of these examples can be traced back to "injecting religious issues into the affairs of state” — alarming when funnelled through current events.
"By maintaining the separation of church and state, the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars,” he said.
His fear, he said, were pro-life groups and the Moral Majority which he warned “could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength."
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Byline Supplement to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.