Boebert, court decisions ignite debate over church and state
(The Hill) – Rep. Lauren Boebert’s recent comments calling the separation of church and state “junk” has drawn both criticism and worry that the influence of conservative Christians – both in public office and on the Supreme Court – could upend constitutional precedent.
The high court’s recent decisions such as overturning the right to an abortion and ruling in favor of school prayer are prompting critics like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to dub the movement the “Christian Taliban.”
Religious conservatism has long had a presence on the right, but some fear that Christian nationalism is rising. Right-wing Christians were a core part of the electoral continuance that helped former President Trump win the White House in 2016.
“I’ve never seen this kind of fandom by so many in Church leadership who are going to these lengths to defend such a flawed man,” Kinzinger said in a statement to The Hill, in an apparent reference to Trump.
Boebert, a fervent supporter of the former president, drew backlash after a speech she gave at a Colorado church over the weekend where she insisted a separation of church and state “means nothing.”
“The reason we had so many overreaching regulations in our nation is because the church complied. The Church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church,” Boebert said.
“That is not how our founding fathers intended it. And I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk. That’s not in the Constitution, it was in a stinking letter, and it means nothing like what they say it does,” the Colorado Republican added.
Boebert’s office said that she does not support a theocracy, and that she was arguing that Christian principles are a guiding force in the founding of the country and in policymaking today.
But her comments stoked fear of Christain conservatives advocating for state-run religion, or a government influenced by religion.
Compounding outrage about Boebert’s comments were recent decisions from the Supreme Court overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case, striking down a Maine law that made religious schools ineligible for taxpayer-backed tuition aid, and ruling in favor of a high school football coach who was disciplined for leading postgame prayers on the field.
Andrew Seidel, vice president of strategic communications at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said that both the Supreme Court decision on prayer and Boebert’s comments were rooted in Christian nationalism.
“It ignored the religious freedom of everybody except the coach,” Seidel said. “And that is not religious freedom. That is religious favoritism. That’s what Christian nationalism seeks. That’s what Lauren Boebert was preaching.”
Singer and actor Barbara Streisand last week called the Supreme Court the “American Taliban,” arguing that it “uses religious dogma to overturn the constitutional right to abortion.” That was similar to the “Christian Taliban” phrase that Kinzinger used in his criticism of Boebert. Hundreds of users on Twitter fired of variations of the phrase over the last week.
Some on the left, though, such as Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali, took issue with using the term “Taliban” to criticize Boebert or the Court, arguing that it was Christian nationalism, not Islam, that posed the biggest threat to the U.S. and that comparing it to the Taliban was “an unneccessary distraction.”
Arguments have circled among religious conservatives for decades that the original meaning of separation of church and state has been warped.
The “stinking letter” that Boebert referenced is Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 reply to the Danbury Baptists Association of Connecticut after the group had expressed concerns about religious liberty. Jefferson in response pointed to the First Amendment’s establishment clause – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – which, Jefferson wrote, built “a wall of separation between Church & State.’”
WallBuilders, a conservative advocacy organization founded by Evangelical political activist David Barton, argues: “The First Amendment was intended to keep government out of regulating religion, but it did not keep religion out of government or the public square.”
The Supreme Court has repeatedly pointed to Jefferson’s letter to recognize a separation between church and state, but has chipped away at that notion in recent decisions.
Seidel argues that religious conservatives’ interpretation is patently wrong, arguing that “there is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion.”
“The wall of separation between church and faith is an American original. That is an American invention,” Seidel said. “We should be proud of that fact. And the people who claim to be patriots are out there undermining it with myths about a Christian founding.”
When it comes to politics, numerous other candidates beyond Boebert have repeated similar arguments about the separation of church and state, or advocated for government to be influenced by religion.
Doug Mastriano, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, has made Christianity central to his campaign and has also called the separation of church and state a “myth.”
Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), a Trump-backed incumbent who on Tuesday won a primary against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), has been one of the most outspoken members of the House on injecting more prayer and God in society.
“Our children are suffering and we face a mental health crisis in our country because the radical left has spent decades removing God from our school and our society,” Miller said at a recent Second Amendment Caucus press conference. “Our country must be guided by our Judeo-Christian faith … We need to go back to God, people.”