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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Religion

Joseph Kennedy

Just one week after declaring pregnancy a sacrament, the Supreme Court announced a bold ruling in favor of performative Christianity. Never mind this tiresome business about no establishment of religion, the very holy Republican majority in their priestly robes have liberated the nation’s public school football coaches to get on with the serious business of saving souls.

Can I get an amen?

The court ruled in favor of a coach in Bremerton, Washington who had lost his lawsuit against the school board that let him go after he refused to stop holding post-game prayer meetings with his players at the 50 yard-line after high school football games. The justices held that Coach Joseph Kennedy’s showboating for Jesus was exactly like “a Christian aide…praying quietly over her lunch in the cafeteria.”

As near as I can determine, the author of the decision, Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, never attended a public school: a total academic hothouse flower. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor whose life experience is considerably broader, took the rare step of attaching photos from the evidentiary record by way of demonstrating that what Gorsuch characterized as private devotional moments were, in fact, public spectacles.

She added that athletic coaches have considerable influence over their young charges: “Students look up to their teachers and coaches as role models and seek their approval,” she wrote.

“Students also depend on this approval for tangible benefits. Players recognize that gaining the coach’s approval may pay dividends small and large, from extra playing time to a stronger letter of recommendation to additional support in college athletic recruiting.”

If the coach holds a prayer session, what sophomore quarterback will feel free not to drop to his knees? And if he’s a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu? As Jay Michaelson put it in The Daily Beast, such devotionals tend to be about “as official as a fire drill.”

Remember, this is a public school, not a private religious academy.

Here’s how a Republican-appointed justice at the Ninth Circuit described the evidence in rejecting the coach’s appeal: Coach Kennedy “prayed out loud in the middle of the football field” at game’s end, “surrounded by players, members of the opposing team, parents, a local politician and members of the news media with television cameras recording the event, all of whom had been advised of Kennedy’s intended actions through the local news and social media.”

Starting with the coach’s own Facebook page. In short, he staged a religious publicity stunt at a public high school where students are supposed to be free from government-sponsored proselytizing.

Here’s what Coach Kennedy’s Lord and Savior said about theatrical displays of religiosity in Matthew 5: 5-6: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and at street-corners that they may be seen by men… But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

No matter. Nothing more excites a certain kind of zealot more than ignoring the plain meaning of what they otherwise affirm as divinely-inspired scripture. Also, some pious exegete can no doubt be found who will construe the meaning of “your room” as “football stadium.”

Blessed are the linebackers, for they shall stand strong.

For the rest of us, the clear message of this dreary little episode is that in the United States Supreme Court, it’s not about facts and evidence. It’s about who’s got the votes. It’s as rigged as the College of Cardinals. If Justice Gorsuch describes a come-to-Jesus pep rally at a homecoming game as a quiet devotional, and if five of his like-minded colleagues agree, then ecclesiastical ceremonies can commence all across the country.

And no doubt they will, particularly in red states and rural communities where religious minorities already know their place. Because it’s only partly about religion to begin with. Mostly it’s about tribal identity: who belongs, who’s in charge, who’s a Real American, and who is merely tolerated. There is no chance—zero—that this Supreme Court would have ruled in favor of a religious minority.

And if you don’t like it, Pilgrim, well tough.

Christian nationalism is what it’s called, a perversion of both patriotism and faith. How you can tell is that Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), the second-dumbest person in the U.S. Congress, is all excited about it.

As reported in the Denver Post, Boebert told a Colorado religious gathering “the church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.”

She spoke of her disgust with “this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter,”

The stinking letter, of course, was written by Thomas Jefferson.

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Mike Flynn

An increasing number of Christian leaders have expressed concern and alarm over the disinformation and damage to democracy wreaked by ReAwaken America, a touring group of far rightists, according to a new Guardian report,

The caravan of conspiracist speakers, including rising conspiracy peddler Clay Clark, Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and convicted felon Roger Stone, have rallied in Florida, Michigan, and other states, drawing thousands of people from around the country.

The falsehoods peddled at ReAwaken’s rallies — from vaccine skepticism, anti-mask narratives, and Christian nationalism to false claims of widespread election fraud — have drawn cries of outrage from community leaders and prompted Christian leaders to raise concerns about the political and spiritual health of the country.

"This tour features a who’s who of far-right religious extremists, Trump aides, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and other reckless figures," said Sabrina Lamar, Monroe County Legislature President. "At every stop along the way, this nationalist tour has left in its wake a trail of dangerous disinformation that can lead to increased bigotry, hate, and, at its most extreme, violence.”

QAnon Conspiracies, Distorted Christian Teaching

Right-wing doctors amplifying vaccine conspiracies have made guest appearances at ReAwaken’s rallies, including Trump-backed “demon sperm” doctor Stella Immanuel and physician-turned-insurrectionist Simone Gold, leading pandemic and election experts to warn of the “potentially far-reaching impacts” that their misinformation has on “the nation’s public health and its democracy.”

“This ReAwaken tour is peddling dangerous lies about both the election and the pandemic,” said Adam Russell Taylor, the president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group. “Jesus taught us that the truth will set us free, and these lies hold people captive to these dangerous falsehoods. They also exacerbate the toxic polarization we’re seeing in both the church and the wider society.”

At ReAwaken’s April 1 - 2 rally in Kaizer, Oregon, which some attendees claimed was “filled with love,” thousands cheered when conservative Pastor Mark Burns said, “There is no such thing as trans kids … only abusive parents.” Burns was running in a Republican congressional primary in South Carolina but lost on Tuesday.

At the same rally, Clark asked his colleague, Aaron Antis, a far-right extremist, what he thought of hospitals. Antis gleefully replied, “I’d say that those are the gas chambers of America … Once they are in the grips of the hospital is like they’ve gone to the gas chambers and they don’t come back.”

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that exposes extremism, accused Clark of “comparing something that bothers you to the Holocaust.” The organization called Clark’s comments “deeply inaccurate, insulting, and troubling.”

“There is simply no comparison between the systematic murder of over 13 million people, including 6 million Jews, and the efforts to save lives and keep communities safe amidst a raging global pandemic,” the organization said in a statement.

At a different stop on the tour, tomahawk-toting QAnoner Scott McKay boldly claimed that a powerful Jewish mafia is “killing you in hospitals; they’re killing you in the streets; they launched Antifa and BLM.”

The American Jewish Committee slammed the false rhetoric and other allegations leveled against Jews, which it said were chock-full of anti-Semitic codewords and phrases, particularly “globalists,” “cabal,” “elitists,” “elites,” and direct references to Jewish puppet-masters.

A month later, ReAwaken held a two-day gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and famous names on the far-right, including Stones, Flynn, Burns, and even former President Trump’s son Eric Trump, were in attendance. The group put its “Trump political messages mixed with Christian nationalism” on full display at the gathering, the Guardian noted in its report.

“There is a satanic portal above the White House. You can see day and night. It exists. It is real. And it must be closed. And it will be closed by prayer,” Stone rambled during the rally, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd. He told the rapt crowd that the “portal” appeared after Joe Biden “became president and it will be closed before he leaves.”

Disgraced Flynn

Flynn, who is well-known for his ludicrous conspiracies, drew sharp criticism for suggesting that America ought to have only “one religion.".

“If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion,” Flynn reportedly said. “One nation under God and one religion under God, right? All of us, working together.”

Flynn went on to proclaim that America was founded on a “set of Judeo-Christian principles” and had a “biblical destiny,” a view that alarmed the Sojourners. “Flynn has a warped understanding of religion and American history,” Taylor said.

In April, Reverend Melinda Teter Dodge penned a hard-hitting op-ed in the Times Of San Diego titled “Right-Wing ‘ReAwaken America’ Tour Brought Irreligious Abomination to San Diego,” documenting Flynn’s leadership role in ReAwaken America.

“Tragically, late last month, proclaimed church leaders and religious zealots descended upon San Diego county, and twisted this scriptural truth for specific political purposes. In speaking to thousands of vulnerable attendees, this group spewed dangerous falsehood after falsehood about Covid-19 and the 2020 election,” Dodge wrote.

“The event at a church in San Marcos was the latest stop on disgraced, retired General Michael Flynn’s ‘ReAwaken America Tour,’ a nationwide series of megachurch engagements featuring a who’s who of far-right religious extremists, Trump aides, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and other reckless figures. At every stop along the way, the Christian nationalist tour has left in its wake a trail of dangerous disinformation that leads to bigotry, hate, and, at its most extreme, violence.”