American Theocracy and Failed States

15 July, 2022
What hap­pens when the Supreme Court over­rules the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state?


Opin­ions pub­lished in The Markaz Review reflect the per­spec­tive of their authors and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent TMR.


Ani Zonneveld


Since 1802, when Thomas Jef­fer­son stat­ed that “a wall of sep­a­ra­tion between Church and State” was a foun­da­tion­al ele­ment of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy, the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States has repeat­ed­ly cit­ed Jefferson’s words as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to uphold the prin­ci­ple that sec­u­lar law trumps the teach­ings of any indi­vid­ual faith. In the last few years, how­ev­er, the deploy­ment of “reli­gious free­dom,” along­side the Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act, which empow­ered cit­i­zens to ignore anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws if they felt these laws con­flict­ed with their reli­gious beliefs, has sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly divert­ed Amer­i­ca from its iden­ti­ty as a sec­u­lar state to one of a theoc­ra­cy, which jus­ti­fies the use of vir­u­lent, dis­crim­i­na­to­ry prac­tices as a reli­gious right.

As the leader of a Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tion, I rec­og­nize all too well the trap­pings of reli­gious laws and have repeat­ed­ly chal­lenged human rights abus­es that have gone unchal­lenged — abus­es jus­ti­fied in the name of Islam­ic “sharia law.” Sharia law — man­made laws claim­ing to be “God’s law” — gov­erns most Mus­lim soci­eties.  In essence, these laws are the extrap­o­la­tion of cis­gen­der men’s under­stand­ing and inter­pre­ta­tion of the sacred texts of Islam, often root­ed in misog­y­ny, homo­pho­bia, and transphobia.

Fre­quent­ly, sharia laws vio­late the most basic human rights. Fol­low­ing the his­tor­i­cal path of their theo­crat­ic pre­de­ces­sors, these coun­tries are all pre­dictably failed states, rife with human rights abus­es and corruption.

For the past few decades, cit­i­zens of the Unit­ed States have seen law­mak­ers leg­is­late their under­stand­ing of the Bible into law, while unelect­ed judges inter­pret laws and the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion through the prism of their Chris­t­ian reli­gion, or the beliefs they asso­ciate with Chris­t­ian teach­ings. Supreme Court Jus­tice Amy Coney Bar­rett famous­ly opined that, “a legal career is but a means to an end…and that end is build­ing the King­dom of God.” How is this view any dif­fer­ent than the zealots who leg­is­late from the Islam­ic sharia courts? Theoc­ra­cy, regard­less of reli­gious affil­i­a­tion, pro­motes the supe­ri­or­i­ty of one group over anoth­er, a prac­tice that breeds moral cor­rup­tion and per­mits — indeed, at times pro­motes — a sys­tem that denies basic human rights to indi­vid­u­als who do not fol­low the state reli­gion, or the “cor­rect” inter­pre­ta­tion of this reli­gion.  Three Supreme Court cas­es  eas­i­ly present them­selves as  evi­dence to that effect. 

To estab­lish whether Amer­i­ca is now a Chris­t­ian theoc­ra­cy, one sim­ply has to look at the lat­est deci­sions made by the Supreme Court’s con­ser­v­a­tive super­ma­jor­i­ty. In Kennedy v. Bre­mer­ton, SCOTUS under­mined the reli­gious free­dom of pub­lic school stu­dents by rul­ing that a foot­ball coach at a pub­lic school in Wash­ing­ton was per­mit­ted to pray on the 50-yard line dur­ing and after games. This deci­sion rep­re­sents a seis­mic shift in law, erod­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state in pub­lic schools. For 60 years, Chris­t­ian extrem­ists have worked to  bring school-spon­sored prayer back to pub­lic schools, a prac­tice which  vio­lates the reli­gious free­dom of the stu­dents, their par­ents, and the tax­pay­ers who fund these schools. After 60 years and with the help of six unelect­ed judges, the reli­gious extrem­ists succeeded.

In anoth­er piv­otal case, Car­son v. Makin, the same Roberts Court forced the state of Maine to fund pri­vate reli­gious schools, regard­less of whether these schools and their cur­ric­u­la meet state aca­d­e­m­ic stan­dards. This case is part of a larg­er effort by Chris­t­ian extrem­ists and anti-pub­lic edu­ca­tion advo­cates, like Bet­sy DeVos, who seek to pri­va­tize America’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem. In its deci­sion, the six con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tices con­ve­nient­ly ignored a com­mon prac­tice at these char­ter schools — the use of reli­gion to dis­crim­i­nate against stu­dents, par­ents, and teach­ers. The pri­vate reli­gious schools at issue demon­strat­ed sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion in hir­ing and admis­sions prac­tices at the expense of non-Chris­tians and LGBTQ peo­ple. For exam­ple, the Tem­ple Acad­e­my in Water­ville, Maine not only bars admis­sion to LGBTQ stu­dents but also refus­es to admit stu­dents with LGBTQ par­ents. At Ban­gor Chris­t­ian School, in Ban­gor, ME, stu­dents who come out as LGBTQ are forced to under­go “coun­sel­ing” and must renounce their sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­ti­ty, or face expulsion.

Then, of course, there is the over­turn­ing of Roe v. Wade, which effec­tive­ly elim­i­nat­ed the con­sti­tu­tion­al right that Amer­i­can women , trans­men, and non­bi­na­ry indi­vid­u­als, have held for 50 years to safe, legal, and acces­si­ble abor­tions. This deci­sion, and the empow­ered indi­vid­u­als who made it, was a direct result of decades of cam­paign­ing from Chris­t­ian Right to estab­lish footholds in every branch of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for the sin­gu­lar pur­pose of elim­i­nat­ing an individual’s right to choose.

The Chris­t­ian Right believes that life begins at con­cep­tion, but for Mus­lims, Jews, some Chris­tians, and oth­er faiths, it doesn’t.

As Louisiana was draft­ing its land­mark anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion, Rab­bi Robert Loewy tes­ti­fied at the House com­mit­tee that, “Jews do not believe that life begins at con­cep­tion,” con­tra­dict­ing the asser­tions of the bill’s spon­sor. Rather, Rab­bi Loewy explained, “a fetus grad­u­al­ly acquires more rights as it devel­ops” accord­ing to Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Sim­i­lar­ly, Islam is very lib­er­al on mat­ters of abor­tion, ele­vat­ing a mother’s right to health, pros­per­i­ty, and self-deter­mi­na­tion above all else. Mus­lims for Pro­gres­sive Val­ues has devel­oped a series of info­graph­ics to edu­cate the pub­lic about Islam’s posi­tion on abor­tion, fam­i­ly plan­ning, and bod­i­ly auton­o­my, which you can view here.

The Supreme Court’s deci­sion in Dobbs v. Jack­son to elim­i­nate the con­sti­tu­tion­al right to an abor­tion vio­lates the rights of non-Chris­t­ian Amer­i­cans’ right to live accord­ing to their own reli­gious or non-reli­gious beliefs.

There are many com­mon denom­i­na­tors between the Islam­ic sharia courts and the Chris­t­ian rightwingers who com­fort­ably reign over today’s Supreme Court. Per­haps the most per­va­sive and dan­ger­ous is that nei­ther of these insti­tu­tions hold any regard for jus­tice or free­dom, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to bod­i­ly auton­o­my, repro­duc­tive rights, the rights of LGBTQ+ peo­ple, and the right of any indi­vid­ual to live free from the grasps of rad­i­cal and restric­tive inter­pre­ta­tions of religion.

Let us not be fooled. The con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court jus­tices are not moti­vat­ed by con­sti­tu­tion­al duty, rather they are com­pelled by a polit­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty that has tak­en hold over pre­vi­ous­ly sec­u­lar and demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions. This vir­u­lent strain of pol­i­tics has con­vert­ed a sec­u­lar Amer­i­ca into the lat­est Chris­t­ian theoc­ra­cy, a well trod­den path that ulti­mate­ly leads to a failed state.



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