People are used to hearing that the American Constitution is being attacked. It has become a common theme for conservatives to use when talking about Democrats, particularly President Obama. On every issue from gay marriage to abortion to executive orders, the right wing has accused their political opponents and ideological opposites of attempting to destroy one of the founding documents of the United States. But in a classic case of Shakespeare’s “the lady doth protest too much,” the biggest threat to the U.S. Constitution is really conservatives.
That sounds insane. Could the loudest crusaders for preserving the Constitution really be its biggest foes? Someone’s crazy Republican uncle is going to be eye-poppingly irate when he hears that. And someone else’s crazy liberal uncle is probably going to do a jig. But there is concrete evidence that this scenario is actually true.
Last week, Glenn Beck had a fit over a story out of Florida where the school system discontinued the handing out of religious materials on January’s “National Freedom of Religion Day” because of a tiff about whether Satanists should be allowed to hand out materials along with Christians. In his best impression of a college professor, Beck stared down the camera and argued that this is a case of denying the Judeo-Christian values which founded America. He actually said the words, “This is not about free speech” as he argued that the school system should have stood up to Satanists, denied them their constitutional right to pass out pamphlets to students and let the Christians with Bibles continue on.
This is a flagrant denial of the First Amendment which can be explained by a simple online legal resource. Cornell University’s online Wex Legal Dictionary notes that the First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state and applies to the entire federal government, as well as ensuring that state governments do not violate anyone’s rights in conjunction with the due process set forth in the 14th Amendment. Basically, if the Florida school system had done what Beck wanted it to do, it would be in violation of the First Amendment, one of the key protected rights that America was founded on.
This is not the first time that Beck has been irritated by Satanists exercising their Constitutional rights. He was mad during the Christmas season last year that Satanists had been allowed to have a holiday display in Florida’s capitol building, right alongside a Christian display. When a Christian woman tried to destroy the display while wearing a “Catholic Warrior” t-shirt, Beck applauded her. If someone had tried to do this to the Christian display, no doubt he would have been apoplectic with rage as he has been on other occasions when Christianity is attacked by people exercising their Constitutional rights.
Glenn Beck is one man and he hardly constitutes a full on, right wing conspiracy to dismantle the First Amendment, but he is hardly the only conservative figure to hold such views. Jody Hice, the pastor turned politician from Georgia, is a believer in the Christianity-only view of the First Amendment and has actually argued that religious freedom does not apply to Muslims. Barry Loudermilk, another politician from Georgia, believes the same thing. Both men were elected to Congress in the November 2014 election.
It would be a stretch to say that they would not try to bend the Constitution to their viewpoint now that they are in office. In fact, Republicans have already started the process in other places. Last February, Kansas passed a bill that allows anyone with an anti-gay attitude to discriminate against members of the LGBT community as part of their “religious freedom.” Any traditional marriage bill that comes through the Republican controlled House and Senate would also fall under a dismantling of the First Amendment because it is specifically directed towards enshrining the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage as part of the Constitution. Once again, religious freedom only applies to people who hold the conservative Christian view of things.
And the Constitution is only about Christians, not about any other religion. If that sounds a little too extreme even for the extreme right wing, consider the example of Roy Moore, Alabama’s chief justice. In May 2014, he gave a speech at a pro-life luncheon in which he explicitly argued that the Constitution only applies to Christians. In a video that goes longer than 10 minutes, he enumerates how both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are only about Christians and secular law schools are erasing this fact from their teaching because it is not “politically correct.” Moore has since denied that was what he meant, but has not backed away from spreading his message about how the Constitution is a strictly Christian document. The pamphlet he says he is writing in the video is now on sale for five dollars by the Institute on the Constitution. Obviously, this is something that Moore, Beck and others are seeking to change not just by disseminating this message on screen and in print, but through legislation that explicitly enumerates their view.
Does that not sound like a threat? One of America’s biggest values is the melting pot, not just of races and cultures, but of religion as well. That is what “freedom of religion” means and has meant to Americans for centuries. This argument that the Constitution only applies to Christians is relatively new and is a huge departure from everything that people know about the Constitution. This is the biggest actual threat of a literal rewriting of the U.S. Constitution and it’s not coming from Democrats or liberals, but from the very conservatives who have said they are protecting it.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury