Is the US Supreme Court responsible for the recent horrific shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut?
That is the implication made by Mike Huckabee, conservative radio personality, former Governor of Arkansas, and occasional presidential candidate. Huckabee told Fox News that school violence could be prevented by letting God back into public schools.
Asked by reporter Neil Cavuto how God could allow such a tragedy, Huckabee responded,
“We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that. . . . Maybe we ought to let (God) in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
As I argued recently in an article in the Journal of Religious History, this argument has been a standard theme among conservative evangelical Protestants since SCOTUS’ 1963 Schempp decision. The journal is subscription-only, but the essence of my argument is as follows:
many religious Americans, far beyond the ranks of evangelical Protestants, concluded that the Court had kicked God out of public schools. Unlike other religious Americans, however, evangelicals had long had special influence over public education. These Court decisions had a unique impact on evangelical attitudes because evangelicals had harbored an implicit trust in their own unique role in public education. When the Supreme Court ruled that evangelical staples such as recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and reading from the Bible could no longer be performed in public schools, it forced evangelicals to an unexpected grappling with their wider relationship to American society. Not only did the Court decisions kick God out of public schools, in other words, but it effectively kicked evangelicals out of the American mainstream.
As a result, evangelicals shifted from feeling part of a politically invulnerable religious majority to feeling themselves part of a put-upon minority. This dramatic and relatively sudden change in evangelical sentiment had important results. For decades, politicians and politically minded preachers attracted evangelical support by articulating these new minority sentiments. Jerry Falwell, for example, organized the significantly named Moral Majority as an effort to represent the values of conservative Fundamentalists, whom Falwell called “the largest minority bloc in the United States.”[i] Similarly, in a stump speech in early 1984, Ronald Reagan played to the sensibilities of evangelical voters when he condemned “God’s expulsion” from public schools.[ii]
[i] George Vecsey, “Militant Television Preachers Try to Weld Fundamentalist Christians’ Political Power,” New York Times, January 21, 1980, A21.
[ii] Quoted in Catherine A. Lugg, For God and Country: Conservatism and American School Policy (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), 159.