Church v, state is a topic before the conservative U.S. Supreme Court this coming week in a case about Christian clergy calling on God’s guidance for the town board meetings in Greece, a Rochester (NY) suburb. During the last decade, opening prayers were given by only three non-Christians—a Baha’i, a Jew, and a Wiccan priestess. And that was after the lawsuit was filed. The 2nd Circuit Court agreed unanimously that board meetings should be secular, but SCOTUS decided to take the case on appeal.
Last year, a federal appeals court referred to the “steady drumbeat” of Christian invocations that violates the Constitution’s prohibition of government’s religious endorsement. This year, or probably next June, we’ll see what the ultra-conservative court of six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant have to say about separation of church and state, the court that begins with the phrase “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
Thirty years ago, SCOTUS said that these Christian invocations are just fine in March v. Chambers. To decide otherwise, they would have to overturn the precedent, but the conservative majority, led by Chief Justice John Robert, has shown great comfort in doing this. In Marsh, the Nebraska legislature employed a Presbyterian minister to give invocations for 16 years with people as spectators. The clergy in Greece asks the public to participate in the town hall prayers. The U.S. Congress employs a chaplain, perhaps one of the reasons that President Obama is supporting Christianity in the Greece town hall meetings.
Another church v. state lawsuit may erupt now that cadets at the Air Force Academy are no longer forced to recite “So help me God” as part of the school’s Honor Oath. The religious right decided that this change discriminates against Christian cadets. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council claims that this proves Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation “has been trying to drive evangelicals out of the Academy for over a decade.”
In his protest, Perkins used the myth that George Washington initiated the phrase “So help me God.” According to the Library of Congress, James Madison, a strong proponent of separation of church and state, headed a legislative committee that deleted the phrase. Chester Arthur was the first president to use the phrase. The non-secular phrase wasn’t used at the Air Force Academy until 1984.
In other revisionist history, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) explained the inception of the U.S. Constitution: “Jesus destroyed Satan so that we could be free and that is manifested in what is called the Constitution of the United States. God created this nation and God created the Constitution; it is written on biblical principles.”
A Texas appellate court overturned Delay’s conviction for allegedly scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money. He was at the “C Street House,” the place where many of the extremist religious members of Congress live or go to pray, when he heard the news.
Prosecutors said that Delay’s actions and money helped the GOP win the control of the Texas House and then push through a gerrymandering of districts that now tries to stop many Democrats from voting. The Department of Justice is currently participating in lawsuits against the gerrymandering, claiming it unfairly draws minority communities out of certain districts. While Speaker of the House, Delay earned his nickname, “The Hammer,” for his command of the House GOP.
DeLay also talked last week about his four-hour “conference call with the Lord.” According to Delay, God told him that he is to write a book called Shut It Down about the need for Constitutional revival. God also told Bill O’Reilly to write Killing Jesus, according to O’Reilly. In addition, God told DeLay that He has heard the voice of His people and that “my awakening is beginning,” in which DeLay will play a role.
Possibly even more intent on the government forcing Christianity on the United States, a Massachusetts state representative has sponsored a bill to create a mandatory class in Bible and international religions for “the purposes of teaching morality and brotherhood” to high school students. Objective religious studies are not banned by the U.S. Constitution, but “morality and brotherhood” make this bill questionable. The bill’s sponsor, Christopher Fallon, is a Democrat who endorsed Scott Brown in opposition to Elizabeth Warren for U.S. senate.
Also last week, the Public Religion Research Institute released its annual American Values Survey showing religio-political differences between Libertarians and Tea Party members. Each of the first two groups comprise seven percent of U.S. adults. An additional 15 percent lean toward libertarian views, socially liberal and economically conservative, with another 17 percent learning toward the Tea Party. As the report indicated, the survey was done before the Tea Party endorsed the government shutdown.
Libertarians: 94 percent non-Hispanic white; 68 percent male; average age, 44 (national average, 47) compared to 51 in the Tea Party; 27 percent each Protestants and no religious identity, 11 percent Catholic, 6 percent non-Christian faith, and 4 percent another Christian group; 5 percent Democrats and 45 percent Republicans.
Because a libertarian in a political race is more likely to take votes from the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli is in even more trouble for his gubernatorial run in Virginia than his recent fraudulent actions might predict. Libertarian Party Robert Sarvis is likely to gather votes from young white male voters, giving the advantage to Democratic contender Terry McAuliffe in Tuesday’s election.
The one major exception to libertarians’ socially liberal views: 59 percent of them oppose legalizing marriage equality. Yet only 22 percent of libertarians belong to the religious right while 52 percent of Tea Partiers are part of this movement. The two groups don’t have much crossover: 61 percent of libertarians do not belong to the Tea Party movement, and 75 percent of Tea Partiers are not libertarians. Those in the Tea Party prefer Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for president; libertarians prefer Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Even more libertarians (96 percent) oppose the Affordable Care Act, compared to 78 percent of Tea Partiers. Raising the minimum wage also ires both groups, libertarians more (65 percent) than Tea Partiers (57 percent). That’s the perspective that Republicans who wish to lean in a more moderate position or even compromise with the opposition face in Congress.
The new pope continues to criticize his flock as he rails against right-wing “ideological Christians”:
“When a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new.”
Pope Francis followed this up with a comparison of the mindless pursuit of money to idolatry:
“Having more, having more, having more… It leads you to idolatry, it destroys your relationship with others. It’s not money, but the attitude, what we call greed. Then too this greed makes you sick, because it makes you think of everything in terms of money. It destroys you, it makes you sick. And in the end – this is the most important thing – greed is an instrument of idolatry because it goes along a way contrary to what God has done for us.”
The problem with “greed,” according to the pope, is the hoarding, like the top 1 percent of the people in the United States. And the people in Congress who are used by money-hoarders like the Koch brothers. The 61 Catholics in the House and nine Catholics in the Senate are a large enough block to keep the others from destroying Social Security, Medicare, and the safety net, including health and food. The pope is speaking directly to them.
Pope Francis was so intent on his message about the evil of greed that he suspended German Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who some called Bishop Deluxe or the Bishop of Bling. With an estimated cost of $55 million for his official residence, the bishop will not know his destiny until after he submits a detailed report of construction expenses. Although the Vatican exudes opulence, the pope refuses to live in the papal residence and has urged prelates to adopt a more humble lifestyle.
Once the pope dispenses with the bishop, he may get around to telling members of Congress that they are ideological and greedy. I’m hoping!