Voters have repeatedly rejected the theocratic agenda of the Religious Right. Each of their candidates went down to resounding defeat in the 2016 elections. In the end, they placed their hopes on Donald Trump, even anointing him as their messiah.
And yet thanks to Trump’s rejection of judicial review as so forcefully expressed by Stephen Miller and by Trump himself, they may win in the end.
A new report by People for the American Way (PFAW), “Trump Attacks on Judiciary Could Be Religious Right’s Biggest Payoff,” warns that “Christian conservatives have long viewed federal courts as obstacles to their Christian-nation goals.”
The report’s author, Peter Montgomery, explains that,
“When Donald Trump sent White House adviser Stephen Miller onto the Sunday morning talk shows, Miller’s most chilling comments were his repeated attacks on the federal judiciary and his assertion that ‘the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.’”
“[Stephen] Miller’s language about ‘judicial supremacy’ comes straight from the mouths of Religious Right leaders who have long viewed the federal courts as obstacles to the creation—or in their minds, restoration—of America as a Christian nation whose laws reflect their interpretation of the Bible.”
Of course, it would be no restoration. America was not established as a “Christian nation” but a secular one where people were free to worship whatever god they wished, or no god at all. The Constitution did not establish the theocracy that Religious Right leaders want for America, and the judiciary stands in their way of its implementation.
And so “The 2016 Republican platform calls the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality decision a “lawless ruling” and rulings they disagree with, like this one, become “judicial usurpation.” We hear people like Liberty Counsel’s Matt Staver proclaim, “No civil authority, including the U.S. Supreme Court, has the authority to define marriage as anything but the union of one man and one woman!”
Unfortunately for Staver, neither does he. Neither do the leaders of his religion and because the Bible is excluded from the Constitution, neither does his Bible, despite his fanatical desire in violation of the First Amendment establish his religious beliefs as law.
It is an article of faith among many Religious Right activists that what they see as America’s moral decline began with Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s that upheld the separation of church and state by prohibiting school officials from leading students in a government-approved prayer or Bible readings. At the time, many evangelicals, including the Southern Baptist Convention, supported those rulings. But in recent decades they have been repeatedly cited as the beginning of America’s downfall. Christian-nation activist and conservative political operative David Lane says those rulings created a “false god of secularism” and a “spiritually decadent, godless society.” Pat Buchanan recently fumed, “Secularist justices de-Christianized our country.”
It is easy to see, as the report explains, why “Some Religious Right leaders might welcome a constitutional crisis that would weaken the ability of the federal judiciary to check their designs.”
Conservatives have talked themselves into a frenzy, as you can see from the rhetoric of both the election and post-election periods. They anointed Trump their messiah and now they want the president to deliver. And while Trump may or may not share their beliefs, there are reasons they might get their wish.
As Montgomery tells us,
“With Trump increasingly agitated about any court ruling that doesn’t go his way, it is likely that we will see further attacks on the judiciary coming from the White House.”
Montgomery finishes with a solemn note of warning:
Trump and his conservative allies, however, may want to heed Chief Justice John Marshall’s observation that “If the legislatures of the several states may at will annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the Constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.”
In a sense, it is already. Trump seems to sincerely believe he should be able to do whatever he wants and that checks and balances are a thing of myth. The real myth is the idea of a Christian nation established by the Constitution.
Trump’s avowed motivation of revenge means the PFAW report must be taken to heart. Paradoxically, the Religious Right lost every primary but now it is the most powerful it has ever been with a profane autocrat like Donald Trump in the Oval Office.