Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The Supreme Court’s affirmation of the states’ power to settle controversial issues upon which the Constitution is silent has the usual “woke” suspects hyperventilating over religion’s dangerous power to undermine “our democracy.” This war on religion, now in its third century, is predicated on dubious ideologies, ignorance of the role of faith in the Constitution and America’s Founding, and an evangelical faith in the power of “science” that lies at the heart of our progressive technocracy.
As such, the hysteria over Dobbs is really about the power and authority of progressives who are threatened by religion and institutions of civil society.
Two examples of the “woke” panic about faith allegedly driving the Supreme Court’s decisions appeared last week. As National Review’s Isaac Schorr reported, a Politico scribe managed to completely misunderstand and garble the Justices’ argument in Dobbs, which she claims “marks a serious step in an emerging legal campaign by religious conservatives on the Supreme Court to undermine the bedrock concept of separation of church and state and to promote Christianity as an intrinsic component of democratic government.”
Worse is a New York Times columnist who writes that Dobbs is “grounded in religious doctrine rather than constitutional law.” Of course, the reality is that Roe v. Wade was badly decided. The decision depended on a dubious expansion of the 14th Amendment, and Roe’s prequel decision Griswold’s mystical exegeses of “penumbras, formed by emanations” hidden in the Constitution, in order to skirt the complete absence of an enumerated Constitutional “right” to terminate a human life. Dobbs had nothing to do with “religious doctrine.” It is about restoring integrity and coherence to Constitutional jurisprudence.
But such claims from “woke” press-agents like Politico and the New York Times bespeak their ideological prejudices against religion and people of faith. Such bigotry characterizes the Enlightenment secularism that now dominates the West, a narrative that, as Pope Benedict XVI put it, wants “to see God eradicated once and for all from the public life of humanity and shut up in the subjective sphere of cultural residue from the past.” Science and, more often, scientism are now the new authorities, and people of faith like Christians are scorned as “shamans or witch doctors,” Polish poet Czeslaw Milos writes, “from savage tribes whom one humors until one can dress them in trousers and send them to school.”
Another weapon of the progressive attack on Christianity is the claim that the First Amendment’s anti-establishment clause means that religion must be banished from the town square, and reduced to a subjective preference and soothing holiday rituals. That interpretation is an egregious misreading of the amendment, as demonstrated by the persistence in the states of established denominations for decades after the First Amendment was codified.
More importantly, the Founders, even those who were deists, made it clear that religion was the sine qua non for the success of their unprecedented political order. George Washington, for example, warned, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” John Adams agreed: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly unsuited to the governance of any other.”
Even the deist Thomas Jefferson never rejected religion per se, but rather its debasement in stoking sectarian intolerance and violence. In his conflicted ruminations about slavery, he summoned the specter of God’s wrath: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
The Founders knew well that without a transcendent, non-negotiable authority to buttress our political goods like freedom, they become the prey of a radical relativism that can justify any inhumanity and injustice.
The Kennedy decision is equally hated by the “woke” because it corrects the distortion of the First Amendment right to free speech by excluding religious speech. As Justice Gorsuch wrote for the majority, “The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal; the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.” It’s a measure of the progressives’ amoral incoherence that they want to curtail or silence religious speech, even as they claim that drag queens performing in front of prepubescent children are protected by the First Amendment.
The Bill of Rights is not the only target of the enemies of religion. The Constitutional order itself is attacked for its foundational realist view of human nature as imperfectible due to its irrational “passions and interests,” especially its lust for power that rarely is satiated. Thus the primary function of the new government was to protect freedom and prevent tyranny, not the technocratic aim to “solve problems” that should be the concern of the states and civil society.
In contrast, the technocratic progressives believe that with centralized power and control by “experts” they can improve human nature and create “social justice” and “equity,” the new cant-word for radical egalitarianism. They reject the Founders’ tragic view of human identity, one they inherited from both of the traditions that created the West, the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman.
A technocratic regime, moreover, that claims “science” and “experts” as the justification for its power and authority, and that functions through vast bureaus and agencies unaccountable to the people or the market, is necessarily tyrannical––as a politicized FBI has shown us over the last six years. It cannot admit any other authority like tradition, faith, the family, or even common sense to participate in the process of political deliberation and selection of policy by the sovereign people to whom the government is supposed to answer.
Such a regime must attack the Constitution and the balanced and divided government it creates as obsolete, as the first progressives like Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Croly argued. So too the ideals undergirding the Constitution, such as unalienable rights bestowed by “Nature and nature’s God,” must be rejected, and unlimited new “rights” confected, as FDR did with his Second Bill of Rights.
But these “rights” created by inherently flawed human beings are contingent, vulnerable to the shifting political winds. And imposing these “rights” requires the intrusion of government regulators and overseers that encroach on our natural rights and freedoms. In the end, tyranny will be the outcome of such efforts.
The war on religion that the Supreme Court has pushed back against is just one front on the progressive’s technocratic attempt to discredit the Constitutional order and the philosophy that created it. The infliction of politicized unscientific ideas like transgenderism and “critical race theory,” and the Department of Justice’s attempt to criminalize parents who exercise their First Amendment right to protest such ideological interference, both originate in the progressive’s war to consolidate and monopolize authority over every aspect of our lives, from child-rearing to church-going, civil society to state sovereignty.
Finally, the great paradox is that these champions of reason and science are promoting unscientific ideas such as the notion that biological sex is really a fluid “gender” created in a child’s mind by mental states. These dubious ideas, passed off as science, are weaponized by the “woke” in service to their attempt to aggrandize power for themselves and their faction. Or they are the expressions of what can only be called a cult, true believers who passionately and uncritically accept bad ideas, and persecute or “cancel” heretics who challenge them––the same tyrannical behavior that has characterized political religions like fascism and communism.
We the people must recognize that the war on religion is a war on the freedom protected by the Constitution. Only our votes stand between our freedom and tyranny.