Louisiana’s Ten Commandments law is the tip of a Christian nationalist iceberg

My first leadership position was as head usher at my church when I was a kid. I remember telling my brothers, who were also ushers, about my promotion. They were unimpressed. Yeah, they said, you realize that means you have to get to church earlier than everyone else.  

My brothers’ snark aside, faith was important in my family. It’s still important to me. So is religious freedom.  

That’s why I’m so concerned about the aggressive advance of white Christian nationalism, a movement whose goals violate a basic American ideal: that we’re all equally American no matter whether or how we worship.  

Our constitutional separation of church and state upholds this ideal. But some people aren’t willing to live by that principle. They have spent decades promoting the idea that this country was created by and for Christians — and they really mean Christians who share their religious and political worldview.   

They have built power in our legislatures and courts. And they are using that power to undermine the pluralism that is a defining characteristic of our country. 

Louisiana’s governor just signed a law requiring that a Protestant version of the Ten Commandments be posted in every public classroom — K-12 and state colleges. That puts the government’s stamp of approval on one religious tradition. It’s defiantly unconstitutional and violates previous Supreme Court rulings. And that’s part of the strategy.  

The same movement pushing laws like this helped build the current Supreme Court majority, which seems eager to dismantle the separation of church and state even further. And now that the court has shifted to the right, groups want legislators to pass laws that will give the court a chance to reverse rulings protecting religious pluralism. It’s the same strategy they used to overturn Roe v. Wade.  

Earlier this month, attorney Matt Krause told a group of Christian nationalist state legislators that it’s time to “go on offense.” He said he was working with legislators “to put Ten Commandments back up in the schoolhouse.” 

Meanwhile, legislation intended to give conservative Christianity a privileged place in American society has been promoted for years by groups that organized “Project Blitz.”  

As researcher Frederick Clarkson has described it, Project Blitz does for Christian nationalism what the American Legislative Exchange Council does for big business — it provides like-minded legislators with ready-made bills. The Ten Commandments bill is one piece of a larger strategy. 

Krause said his legal group helped get the new Louisiana law passed. Wallbuilders, led by a father-son team that relentlessly promotes a false Christian nationalist version of American history, also claimed credit, noting that its president Tim Barton testified in support of the legislation and attended the bill signing. 

The Bartons’ success in having their bogus history embraced widely on the right is especially dangerous now that the Supreme Court majority is in their corner, having embraced a “history and tradition test” for evaluating laws’ constitutionality.  

If you’re a Supreme Court watcher, you know that the “history and tradition test” is one of the worst things to happen at the court in a long time. Put forward by the court’s ultraconservatives, it is a subjective standard that conveniently lets them base rulings on the traditions they like best.   

It’s already opened the door to several rulings favoring the religious-right agenda, including the Dobbs ruling that struck down Roe v Wade.  And it’s gaining traction in lower federal courts.   

And now religious-right leaders, led by the American Family Association, are demanding a religious test for federal judicial nominees. They want Republican presidents and senators to nominate and confirm only judges who meet the groups’ “biblical worldview” standard, an idea so brazenly unconstitutional that it’s breathtaking.   

These groups are not just some noisy fringe. The American Family Association and some of its collaborators are part of Project 2025, a plan by powerful organizations to use the federal government to push Christian nationalism and many other harmful policies whenever the next conservative president is elected.   

What this means for Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, Hindu Americans, Sikh Americans, Buddhist Americans, people of other faiths, the growing number who claim no religious affiliation — and even Christians who don’t share the Christian nationalists’ agenda — is chilling.  

It all comes down to this: Who gets to be a full-fledged, fully respected member of American society? Whose rights get protected, and whose do not? The clear message from some quarters is this: Conservative, white, Christian males get preferred status, and everyone else will be considered on a case-by-case basis.   

That backward-looking vision stands in stark contrast to the promise of a multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious society in which everyone’s rights are protected. That’s the future worth building together. 

Voters, it’s up to us. 

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