In the news last week was a Cleveland woman named Sakeema Majeed. Ms. Majeed was in jail (not prison) for something that really happened, and there was nothing untoward about her conviction or incarceration. She made the news because in the Cleveland jail she was required to attend Christian church services. Ms. Majeed happens to be a Muslim. A law suit has been filed.
This is as close to the state establishing a religion as I have seen in my lifetime.
Oh, I’ve seen similar things, but nothing so blatant. For example, I have written here about the policy of the United States Navy at their Great Lakes Recruit Training facility, back in the 1960’s. They would not take my heartfelt “no preference” as an answer to the question about religion. No, we were all to have a religion at boot camp. With considerable snark, I said okay, I’m a Buddhist. That was not one of the choices, which were Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. I was put down as a Protestant without further adieu, because, as the petty officer said, “I was protesting something.” As indeed I was. For ten weeks I attended non-specific Protestant services every Sunday morning. In 1967, I was, of course, no more a Buddhist than I was a Jew or a Hindu. But back then I wouldn’t even admit to being a Christian of any kind. I had been raised Catholic, and had attended Catholic schools for both grammar and high school. That experience had put me off religion in a comprehensive manner. I’d say that I was no more of a Protestant than a Jew or a Hindu either, but there I was.
This was not like the establishment of a religion though. All that was required was that each of the recruits practice some form of religion, within narrow parameters. The Cleveland jail system is requiring all of its charges to practice Christianity, probably without even the Catholic option. This might be something new.
“The government shall make no establishment of religion . . .” (I paraphrase.) This is the Establishment Clause of our constitution. But where are we going with this thing at this point in our history?
In our brave new Twenty-First Century world, any politician who wants to get elected in the United States must at least pay lip-service to the Christian God. “God bless America!” Except maybe in Vermont, or Brooklyn. There are one or two professed atheists in our government, and a sprinkling of Jews, Muslims and Hindus, but the Protestants are clearly ascendant. And they are a busy bunch too, with an active religious agenda.
Not just the Sarah Palins of the world. The entire structure of American government is well to the right of center now, including almost the entirety of both houses of congress and maybe even the president as well. Not to mention the Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and most state and local governments too. The entire Right Wing Establishment feels somewhat beholding to the religious fanatics among us. I don’t think that it’s even all about the votes anymore. They’ve decided that religion is of great assistance to them in matters of crowd control and fear mongering.
There’s the talk of America being a Christian country, which is always dramatically overstated, and the feeling that America must get back to God. The Ten Commandments have more adherents these days than there are people who can actually recite them. Abortion and gay rights issues are deliberately used as clubs to drive people apart. Religious considerations, so-called Christian religious values, are being inserted into a broader range of our laws with each passing year. Many are specifically Christian, or specifically anti-Muslim. (Sharia Law!) The anti-abortion struggle is morphing into an anti-contraception crusade. Religion, the non-specific “evangelical” form of the Christian religion in particular, is waging a war against our American democracy. They are cleverly masking it behind a claimed war on religion, a claimed war on the Christian religion.
They want us to believe that there is a war on Christmas! That saying “Happy Holidays!” is actually some kind of code for Christians ‘raus! The paranoia is running so deep that many overly credulous Christians feel like there are deep conspiracies against them, and that some kind of socialist or United Nations takeover is imminent in which they will be rounded up and put in camps. Run by FEMA! All of this against the backdrop of an American government that is obviously on a march to establish Christianity as the National Religion of the United States. Maybe, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, they’ll call it the United States of Gilead.
The laws that are being promulgated are intended to force all of us to live by the laws of their religion, as interpreted by them. To shove, as it were, their religion down our throats. The worst of it is that they are, in the process, ignoring all that is good and noble in Christianity. The brotherhood, the charity, the social justice. We may end up wishing that we were only being dictated to by Episcopalians.
Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, Fred, you’re so oversensitive. You’re the one who’s being paranoid. I hope that I am. But that whole pendulum swinging back and forth thing doesn’t work as well as it used to. I’m afraid that these days momentum rules and pendulums are found only in antique clocks. The momentum is clearly with the right wing so-called conservatives, and they’ve got so much wind in their sails that it might be hard to reverse all of the mischief that they’ve been up to for almost forty years now.
As usual, I wish us luck and move on. I’m halfway through an interesting article about the mess in the Ukraine. Things like that calm me down. The history of the Ukraine, present and recent, is such a catalog of horror that any problems that America has quickly pale into insignificance.