“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said: ‘I need a protector.‘ So God made a fighter.”
These are not the words of a pastor during a Sunday mass, these are the words of a campaign advertisement by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who proclaims himself the God-chosen “fighter” for the state of Florida.
However, citing the Book of Psalms and invoking the word “freedom” 12 times in his inaugural speech, Florida under DeSantis’s leadership is now synonymous with the very opposite of ‘freedom’: as the state’s series of bans on abortion, school library books, and high school Advanced Placement (AP) courses continue to make national headlines, sunny Florida is spiraling toward the its stormy demise faster than ever. Even so, DeSantis nevertheless urges fellow conservatives to “proudly put on the armor of God ” and follow his footsteps in promoting policies like Florida’s radically-backward ban-streaks.
And these are the consequences of tolerating religious nationalism in democratic politics — through politicians’ manipulation of religious rhetoric to push a self-benefiting agenda in their public service, our progress toward democracy is slowed by the interests of the powerful and shattered by the hatred and division created by the political religionists.
Tracing back to 2021, in the aftermath of a mismanaged pandemic by the Trump administration, conservative elites raced to regain the public trust amidst the rapid deterioration of conservative reputation. Historically bank-rolled and vote-backed by the Evangelical Christians, leading Republican figures now scramble to intensify their rhetoric toward religious appeal to secure this safety net to stay in power. And despite losing in the 2020 presidential race and later indicted for inciting the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, former president Donald Trump continues to attempt rallying up support for the 2024 with a religious rhetoric, advocating for radical policies with religious pro-life rationales that offers no other defense to rebuttals other than labeling all claims and arguments as ‘God’s words.’
Pushing for the removal of the Johnson amendment and Mexico City Policy, policies respectively blocking political campaign activities by non-profit organizations and federal funding for non-profit organizations that makes abortion referrals, Trump also described himself as the holy crusader for American Christians in an interview with the show FlashPoint on Victory Channel, a Christian television network.
“Nobody has done more for Christianity or for the evangelicals or for the religion itself than I have.” Trump exclaimed.
Let us not forget that these are the words of a former United States president, the president of a secular republic where the very first amendment of our constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and protects separation of state and religion.
Funded by the public dime and sworn in to service the people of our democracy, no elected official should be proud of his service to any particular religious group instead of the American public. Additionally, to then publicize this fact and purposefully provoke hostility among America’s diverse religious and non-religious demographic groups for personal gains — former president Trump is the prime example for the poisonous effect of religious nationalism in public politics.
Beyond the corruption of the elites, the radicalism of religious-political rhetoric has long bled into the more local levels of our government, inflicting hatred and division in our tore nation even after Trump’s reign.
When Lauren Boebert, republican representative for the state of Colorado mocked Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar as being a part of a “jihad squad” of liberal lawmakers, islamophobia once again trends on internet forums, sparking religion wars among the Christian and Muslim Americans and further dividing the country in the post-pandemic ruins of the political and economic hardships.
Moreover, Boebert even advances to argue for the collapse of the separation of church and state at a religious service at Corner Christian Center.
“I am tired of this separation of church and state junk that is not in the constitution,” Boebert said “The church is supposed to guide the state.”
Contrary to Boebert’s passionate advocacy for a Church-guided American state, the establishment clause of the United States Constitution declares that “the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” effectively making Boebert’s Church-run state an unconstitutional fantasy.
Nonetheless, Boebert faced little to no consequences for her deliberate attempt to radicalize the public, for that political religionists like Boebert have roamed the halls of American politics for so long that we no longer recognize and take offense by these malicious behaviors.
As the Mayflower pilgrims fled their homes for America in search of freedom from religious persecution, the very foundation of our American nation builts on the basis of a secular democracy; a democracy in which we can unite in policies intended for the public good and not policies intended to target the few who are different from our race, origin, or religion. And though historically, religion inspires and guides its believers toward the higher ideals, from the founding moments of our country, we have also learned that policies backed by religious reasoning and motivations have often led to the oppression and the persecution of the outliers who differed — and in a nation as diverse as America, we cannot afford making the same mistake twice: Religion cannot justify the corruption, hated, and division caused by harmful policies that are supported by religious instead of practical rationales. Thus, religious nationalism has to stop — right here with us, and right now with our democracy.