Public Schools

Proponents Of Church-State Separation Didn’t Start The ‘Culture War’ – But We’d Be Happy To End It

  Rob Boston

Christian Nationalists have a long history of making things up. To buttress their myth that America was founded to be a “Christian nation,” they fabricated an entire false “history.” Dismayed by the evidence for biological evolution, they invented creationism and claimed it has scientific backing. (It doesn’t.)

Today we see this strategy being employed in Florida and other states where ultraconservative legislators are trying to stop public schools from teaching objectively about our country’s troubled racial past and in the ongoing efforts to purge public libraries of LGBTQ-themed materials. It’s an attempt to banish what they consider to be inconvenient truths.

Naturally, Christian Nationalists are lying about what they’re up to. They’ve taken to insisting that they’re fending off a left-wing “culture war.”

Who Started The ‘Culture War’?

We heard this yesterday when U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) issued a tweet calling for the country to split up because red state conservatives are tired of dealing with the “disgusting woke culture issues” allegedly favored by progressives. We also heard it earlier this month when Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), while delivering the GOP response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, asserted that the “Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day. Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”

The use of the term “culture war” was likely deliberate, but let’s be clear about something: Progressives didn’t start that conflict – Christian Nationalists did more than 40 years ago. And they’ve been eager to fight it ever since. They use it to raise money, motivate their bloc of voters and divide Americans.

The history of this movement is well known. In the late 1970s, a band of fundamentalist pastors and conservative activists joined forces to make social issues more high profile. This movement, often called the Religious Right, attacked public education as “godless,” assailed the growing LGBTQ rights movement, undermined legal abortion, blasted women’s rights, labeled church-state separation a “myth” and insisted that America was founded to be a “Christian nation” – “Christian” as they defined that term, of course. It was a narrow definition tied to strict fundamentalist beliefs that excluded millions of Christians in addition to non-Christians and the nonreligious.

The Religious Right Rises

Leaders of this movement, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, TV preacher Pat Robertson, Paul Weyrich, Phyllis Schlafly, James Robison and others, were anti-science, anti-modernity, anti-gay, anti-women’s rights and anti-public education. If their agenda sounds familiar, there’s a reason: Christian Nationalists are still pushing it today.

The Religious Right’s agenda was controversial – and it sparked an immediate pushback. Groups like Americans United and others made it clear that America is a democracy, not a theocracy, and we exposed Religious Right groups for what they were: fundamentally un-American and dangerous.

Did the rhetoric get heated from time to time? You bet. That’s to be expected. After all, Christian Nationalists assault pluralism, secular government, individual self-determination, bodily autonomy and the right to learn and read. Those things were worth fighting for in 1980, and they still are. Americans United makes no apology for forcefully standing up for them.

No, advocates of separation of church and state did not start the culture war. Christian Nationalists did that. However, we will be happy to end it – by sparking a national recommitment to the one thing that has been proven to shut down Christian Nationalism every time: America’s traditional, time-tested and unreplaceable principle of separation of church and state.


Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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