Editor’s Note: The year 2021 was full of ups and downs – for the country, and for church-state separation. As the year draws to a close, we're looking back at the top 10 church-state stories, how Americans United rose to the challenge to defend religious freedom and what’s on the horizon for 2022.
It’s just possible that the biggest threat to separation of church and state today comes not from the U.S. Supreme Court or members of Congress who would force everyone to live by their beliefs, but from white Christian nationalism (WCN). In 2021, Americans United took unparalleled steps to expose and combat this nefarious movement.
Adherents of this dangerous worldview hold that America was founded by and for Christians – of the far-right, fundamentalist variety. They don’t support America’s great tradition of religious and philosophical diversity, and they blast separation of church and state as a myth. They are to history what creationists are to science – agents of chaos and confusion whose main goal is to replace facts with a system of lies that buttress their exclusionary political outlook.
White Christian nationalists assail Americans’ reproductive freedom. They work to overturn LGBTQ rights. They oppose efforts to expose and dismantle systemic racism. They attack the secular nature of our public schools. They yearn for censorship of material that offends them. They work to base our laws on their narrow interpretation of faith. In short, they’re nothing more than latter-day theocrats.
White Christian nationalists became more visible in 2021. They came out in force for the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, where they hoisted crosses and banners invoking the name of Jesus.
A Washington, D.C., police officer who was assaulted by the mob testified before Congress July 27, calling the white Christian nationalists what they are: terrorists.
“It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians,” Daniel Hodges told a congressional committee that is investigating the attack. “I saw the Christian flag directly to my front. Another read, ‘Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president.’ Another: ‘Jesus is king.’” He also described seeing a man wearing a T-shirt reading, “God, Guns and Trump.”
While alarming, this increased visibility had an upside: It subjected Christian nationalism to unprecedented levels of new scrutiny. Several academics penned books on WCN, and reporters began digging into the movement and examining its goals and tactics. In April, Church & State ran a cover story titled “White Christian Nationalists: Who Are They? What Do They Want? Why Should You Care?”
AU experts have been quoted by reporters and we have published several blogs posts on WCN, explaining how its adherents resisted sensible precautions and spread misinformation about vaccines during the COVID outbreak.
And we were successful in exposing Project Blitz, a legislative strategy by Christian nationalist groups that seeks to flood state legislatures with bills designed to undermine separation of church and state. Thanks in part to AU, Blitz backers saw their strategy laid bare; they are even trying to rebrand their effort.
(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)