There is a fairly well-know idiom, “give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile” that describes a person or group who has been given a small amount of power or freedom to do something, and then attempts to seize a lot more, or unlimited, power. That sense of entitlement is often the result of giving preferential treatment to a person or group over and above that of everyone else, and it is likely why the Founding Fathers did not single out any group as having supremacy or special rights over any other. It is true the Founders gave preferential treatment to white male landowners, but the Ninth Amendment provided a means for future lawmakers to give equal footing to the entire population. Where the Founders did not give preferential treatment or privileges was for religious adherents, and they included the Establishment Clause to ensure that future generations would never face the threat of religious imposition due to preferential treatment from the government.
Within 24 hours of the Hobby Lobby ruling, there were two statements from Christian fundamentalists that demonstrate exactly what happens when a group has been given a small amount of power or freedom and then attempts to gain much more. The first statement, “My religion trumps your right to (fill in the blank) is precisely why the Founders included the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause the High Court’s conservatives’ Hobby Lobby ruling demolished according to constitutional scholars and lawyers. The second statement was in a letter to the President within 24 hours of the ruling warning him he better start “giving deference to the Christian prerogative” that is also a direct result of the conservative Court neutering the Establishment Clause. However, the idea of government “deference to the Christian prerogative” began long before Hobby Lobby, and it is the result of giving the religious right an inch that inspired them to take a mile.
There is not one specific instance of deference to the Christian prerogative that is bringing Americans closer to a theocracy, but rather, a combination of government actions that not only violated the Establishment Clause, they gave the religious right freedoms and power over and above that of every other American. Now, the American people are beginning to realize the danger, and folly, of “government deference to the Christian prerogative” that began in earnest when the B-movie actor Ronald Reagan gave the moral majority a voice in the direction of government. Because Reagan set the precedent, every President since then keeps religious advisors close to the White House.
George W. Bush’s “faith based initiatives” gave deference, and taxpayer dollars, to the Christian prerogative that President Obama continued and likely set the stage for the recent White House friendly faith leaders’ letter demanding the right to discriminate against the LGBT community and non-Christians in hiring practices. In fact, when the White House eliminated certain a Christian group’s access to “faith-based” taxpayer dollars over their continued discrimination against gays, they were apoplectic and the first signatories of the “deference to Christians” letter the day after Hobby Lobby.
Another monumental error, and sheer folly, was making “in god we trust” the Christian national motto in 1956 to replace E pluribus unum (one out of many). Whatever the reason for imposing an official government motto establishing religion on the nation, in 1962 when the Supreme Court ruled prayer in public school was unconstitutional according to the 1st Amendment, the Christian Right considered the ruling a violation of the Christian national motto. The conservative Court just re-established Constitutional sectarian prayer at public meetings out of deference for Christians’ prerogative, and because the religious right was given an inch, it is just a matter of time before they take a mile in the form of mandatory state-sanctioned public school prayers.
In 1995 the government gave deference to Christians to ignore any law (except taxes) in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and because it was not inclusive enough, the conservatives on the High Court expanded the special rights to include artificial legal entities (closely-held corporations) that inspired the letter to the President demanding more deference to Christian’s prerogative to discriminate by judicial fiat.
In states across America, Republicans are blatantly transferring taxpayer dollars for public schools into private religious schools, as well as teaching the bible as science with impunity. The federal government, and justice department, is giving deference to the Christian prerogative by not taking action against what was once regarded as a violation of the Establishment Clause and patently unconstitutional.
What should enrage all Americans with knowledge of this demand for deference to Christian prerogatives is the practice of providing churches and clergy with tax-exempt status. It is robbing Americans’ tax dollars that are sorely needed to support education, law enforcement, roads, fire protection, and providing for those in need. To make matters worse, and it is much worse, is the federal government’s deference in NOT stripping church’s tax exemption when they blatantly campaign from the pulpit. Every year evangelicals join the Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement and actively campaign for Republicans from the pulpit, videotape the campaign speeches, and send them to the Internal Revenue Service and dare them to revoke their tax-exempt status. The evangelicals do not even attempt to conceal their motive of taking the IRS all the way to the Supreme Court so the 5 conservatives will strike down the prohibition on tax-exempt churches using Hellfire and brimstone to guilt their congregants into voting for Republicans.
The greatest form of deference to the Christian prerogative is this unwillingness, whether it is driven by deference or cowardice, to cite the origin of the assault on democracy and several segments of the population. Oh, it is true Democrats and organizations such as Planned Parenthood decry the Republican war against women, and LGBT groups complain the assault on gays is homophobia, discrimination, and something about marriage equality, but they all defer to the to the Christian prerogative of never, never, ever citing the real source of attacks on other Americans; the Christian bible.
America has shown enough deference to the Christian prerogative that has given them inordinate freedom and power over other Americans and the government to the point they are now demanding the ultimate deference to Christians. It is damn high time to repeal the RFRA, strip tax exempt status from all churches with extreme prejudice, enforce anti-discrimination laws, and imprison governors and Republican legislatures for robbing tax dollars allotted for public schools to teach the bible in private Christian schools. While the Department of Justice is at it, they need to actively pursue, and prosecute, any and all public school personnel from teachers to superintendents to school boards promoting bible curriculum as science.
This country has incrementally drifted so far from the Founding Fathers’ and Constitution’s Framers’ original intent to maintain America as a secular nation, and it all began by giving deference to the Christian prerogative. This country was never intended to be a Christian nation, and yet the Supreme Court’s conservatives and Republicans in Congress and state legislatures are introducing, and in many cases enacting, laws founded on American bastardized Christian fundamentalism.
The religious right was not satisfied with a Christian national motto, religious liberty to flout any law, offices in Congress and the White House, taxpayer dollars for faith-based initiatives, or tax free status at the expense of the people, and after being given far too many inches, and deference to their prerogatives, they have the temerity to demand more. It is time for Americans to say enough, draw a line in the sand, and not give one inch more. Because now that the Christian Right is on a roll, they are not going to stop until they get the ultimate deference; constitutional freedom to impose a Christian theocracy on a secular representative democracy.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.