Just days after winning their Supreme Court case, Hobby Lobby sponsored an ad in multiple newspapers across the US. Titled “In God We Trust,” it’s a collection of quotes from the “Founding Fathers” and others that purports to show that the United States was founded as a Christian nation with a Christian government. None of this is new or surprising. But one of the quotes caught my attention. More about that in a minute.
If you follow the link above, you’ll see many of the usual quotes from the usual suspects. But my purpose here isn’t to show how Hobby Lobby is guilty of quote-mining, or to show that an honest assessment of the Founders would lead to different conclusions. (If you’re interested in that, see the Treaty of Tripoli, for instance; also see the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s comments on the ad here.)
Nor is my point here to argue that, even if the Founders had meant for the US to have a Christian government, we wouldn’t be bound by their views, any more than we’re bound by their views regarding slavery or gender. Even by capitalizing “the Founders” I’m probably giving them more veneration than they deserve, and perhaps more than they desired.
Instead, what interests me today is one particular quote about the public schools:
“Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine revelation in [schools] — its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained and its glorious principles or morality inculcated? … Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?
Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, 1844
(Unanimous Decision Commending and Encouraging the Use of the Bible in Government-Run Schools.) [emphasis added]
Remember that Hobby Lobby and its supporters insisted that their case was all about liberty. They complained that their freedom was being imposed upon, and that whole argument has received plenty of well-deserved scorn and ridicule.
But here’s more evidence that “liberty” is just an argument of convenience. They’re now openly arguing that their religion should have an official status in government and that their holy book should be taught “as a divine revelation” in public schools.
Hobby Lobby isn’t trying to hide their agenda. This is a blatant call for Government Issued religion in the schools. And taken in context with the rest of the quotes it’s obvious that their idea of a “Christian nation” isn’t merely one in which most people are Christian, but one in which the Christian religion is the acknowledged basis of government, and is taught as such to schoolchildren.
I think we need to draw more attention to this. I would love for people to start talking about this particular quote, and to start putting the owners of Hobby Lobby on the spot about it. It’s a good, straightforward, brief, and easily-comprehended piece of evidence. Why would they quote something like that if they felt it was too radical?
Even though most people in the US are at least nominally Christian, I think this would strike most people as pretty radical stuff. What, we won’t trust the government to provide health insurance, but we’ll trust it to provide state-approved religion to children?
I think the birth control thing is going to be a disaster for the Christian right — they don’t seem to realize how strong of a case they’re making for the notion that religion, and particularly Christianity, is basically a coercive force that can’t keep its divinely-sanctioned nose out of everyone else’s business.
The important point is that this isn’t just about contraception. As important as that is, it’s part of a much larger issue: Many of our fellow citizens don’t want religious freedom. They want religious dominion. Flush with victory, they’re being very open about that. I think the best thing secular people can do right now is to draw attention to the more radical points on their agenda, and show the public how it all fits together.