Blue State Blues? Kavanaugh Is Nothing New…

HT: LC

Feeling blue about the Kavanaugh confirmation? Me, too. But let’s not join the goofs who keep saying that this is some sort of unprecedented act of naked partisanship. Let’s not listen to writers like this who call Justice Kavanaugh “patient zero” spreading “virulent political fevers” to a once-staid SCOTUS. We don’t have to dip far into SCOTUS history—we don’t even have to mention the words “Warren” or “Watergate”—to notice that Kavanaugh’s brand of bare-knuckled political judgeship has a long and ugly backstory.

impeach earl warren

The cars were different, but the anger was the same…

As I found over and over again in the research for my book about twentieth-century conservatism, SCOTUS debates have never been polite or gentlemanly. Just ask Earl Warren, a perennial punching bag for the Birchers and their conservative friends.

Chief Justice Warren might have been the most prominent, but he was far from the only lightning-rod of controversy in recent SCOTUS history. Fewer people these days might remember the trials and tribulations of Justice William O. “Wild Bill” Douglas.

Were the attacks on Justice Douglas temperate? Polite? Bi-partisan?

Consider the following: On the floor of the US House of Representatives, for example, future President Gerald Ford initiated impeachment proceedings against Justice Douglas on April 15, 1970. According to the New York Times, Representative Ford accused Douglas of writing “hard-core pornography,” of pushing “hippie-yippie style revolution.” Douglas, Ford charged, was connected to organized crime and deserved to be kicked to the curb due to Douglas’s connections “with some of the most unsavory and notorious elements in American society.”

Douglas impeachment

Porn, gangsters, and hippie-yippies…

Not polite. Not bi-partisan. And, like more famous elements of the Nixon era, not at all disinterested. The New York Times speculated that the real reason for the impeachment proceedings against Justice Douglas was payback for Congressional rejections of other Nixon judicial appointees.

So I, for one, will continue to be bummed by the rancor and contumely expressed during the Kavanaugh hearings. I continue to feel dismayed by Mitch McConnell’s naked power-grab in the non-confirmation of Merrick Garland. I am outraged by the thought of a stolen SCOTUS majority and I will work to elect anti-Trump, anti-Kavanaugh representatives and senators.

But I can’t pretend that this sort of ugliness has not been part and parcel of SCOTUS politics for a long time.

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In School We Trust

Why do conservatives want to put “In God We Trust” banners in public schools? So far, six states have okayed the plan and Kentucky has just entertained a bill to join the list. Why? After all, conservative religious people have the MOST to lose if public schools ditch their fifty-year-old goal of secularism.

in god we trust

Why do conservatives want to trust salvation to the government?

The laws mandating or allowing the display of “In God We Trust” banners are the fruit of a push by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. The CPCF has offered a list of model bills for state lawmakers to consider, with “In God We Trust” school banners at the top of the list.

Why does the CPCF want to put up this banner in public schools? The CPCF insists that the United States must “protect religious liberties” and remain a religious nation. As their promotional video proclaims,

We need this kind of revival of people turning back to God . . . . “In God We Trust.”. . .  it’s an American thing. . . . let’s again write “In God We Trust” on our buildings, in our classrooms, to combat the anti-God dismantling of our nation.

I understand why certain religious conservatives want to see more proclamations of religious faith in public spaces. But I don’t understand why more conservative intellectuals don’t step up to explain the anti-religious implications of these governmental efforts.

After all, back in 1962 when the US Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not impose a vague prayer on schoolchildren, conservative evangelical intellectuals celebrated the decision. I’ve written more about this history in an academic article, but in brief, conservatives were delighted that the government would not be allowed to force children to pray a bad prayer.

In that SCOTUS case, New York schools had been leading children in this blah prayer:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our Country.

To conservative religious thinkers, the idea that a mere government entity could teach children that this was an acceptable prayer was horrific. William Culbertson of Chicago’s conservative Moody Bible Institute commented,

The public as a whole and Christians who sense the necessity for safeguarding freedom of worship in the future are always indebted to the Court for protection in this important area.

Where are today’s conservative Culbertsons? Where are the conservative leaders pleading with politicians to avoid stepping on their religious toes? To avoid replacing real, heartfelt, meaningful religious expression with state-friendly, patriotic, bland platitudes? After all, as Culbertson and his conservative colleagues recognized, it is people who care the most about religion who have the most to lose if public schools cram ANY religion down children’s throats.

Abortion Storm Clouds

Historians shudder a lot these days. But nothing has made me more nervous than this: Life-or-death moral imperatives are being tied to states and regions. We’ve seen this before and it led to the most horrific war in American history.

1860_Electoral_Map

We’ve been divided along moral and geographic lines before…

We don’t want to be hyperbolic or hysterical. The historical precedent, though, is clear and alarming. In the years before the 1860 presidential election, major parties like the Democrats and Whigs tended to have support in both North and South. In that crucial contest, though, the regions divided cleanly and ominously.

With the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS, we’re seeing worrying trends. In my home state, for example, Governor Cuomo has pledged to take steps to preserve abortion rights in case a new SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade.

At the same time, as Bill Scher has pointed out, sixteen other states already have laws on the books that ban abortion. If SCOTUS were to overturn Roe v. Wade, those states would become “Life States,” while places like New York and California would become “Rainbow” or “Freedom” states.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has put together a map of what the country might look like. In a scarily similar way to 1860, we see a clear geographic divide between states that would allow abortion and states that would ban it.

abortion map 2018

CPR’s 2018 divisions…

What will happen? No one knows, least of all historians. The precedent, however, of tying a fundamental value to a geographic entity is alarming.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

SCOTUS, flags, and dino-riding grandpas…it was quite a week here in the ILYBYGTH International offices. Here are some of the stories that caught our eye:

Can campus art disrespect the flag? Kansas says no, at IHE.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Trump and affirmative action in higher ed:

Get elite higher ed out of the social-justice game. Rachel Lu at The Week.

How many creationists does it take to lock in a tax rebate? Examining Ark Encounter’s attendance claims at RACM.

Getting rid of AP: a bad call, says Chester Finn.

Kavanaugh and the Christians:

Turkish creationist under fire, at NCSE.

Creationist Ken Ham shoots for satire, at BB.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

Taylor U. ousts prof for sexual aggression, at IHE.

Christian Cakes and Creationism

You’ve probably seen it by now: SCOTUS issued a weirdly narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. In short, conservative religious people can’t be forced to cooperate with same-sex weddings, IF people are mean to them. It might seem strained, but it is a similar sort of argument to the one I’m making in my new book about creationism. And we don’t have to agree with Phillips (I don’t) to agree with this SCOTUS decision.

masterpiece cakeshop protest

…but it IS about an important principle that can apply all over the culture-war landscape.

Here’s what we know: Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The couple sued and won. Phillips appealed. Yesterday, SCOTUS sided with Phillips, but only because Phillips had been treated with hostility by the lower court. As Amy Howe explained on the SCOTUS blog,

[Justice Anthony] Kennedy observed, the “neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised” by comments by members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. At one hearing, Kennedy stressed, commissioners repeatedly “endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community.” And at a later meeting, Kennedy pointed out, one commissioner “even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.” “This sentiment,” Kennedy admonished, “is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.”

In other words, Phillips won because his sincerely held beliefs were not respected, not because Phillips has a right to refuse service to people.

It’s a ruling that has already led both sides to claim victory. It will also surely bring on more contempt and ridicule like this. But IMHO, this decision sets the right tone—a rare one these days.

I don’t say that because I agree with Phillips. I don’t. I don’t even agree that he has a right to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation. He doesn’t. But he DOES have the right to have his beliefs respected, understood, and considered deeply.

What does it have to do with creationism? For generations now, we’ve heard complaints from creationist parents and activists that their views are not respected or included in public-school science classes. [Check out Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation for my full treatment of these complaints.]

As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism, creationists DO have a legitimate reason to complain. They have every right to be respected and included in public schools. They DON’T have a right to teach religiously inspired science in secular public schools, though. And they DON’T have any right to opt out of learning basic building blocks of knowledge.

It might seem as if there’s no way to square this circle. As Justice Kennedy ruled yesterday, however, it is possible to insist on respect without simultaneously endorsing an exclusionary practice.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Campus uproar, SCOTUS deliberations, and a few oddball stories, too. It’s been another whiz-bang week here at ILYBYGTH. In all the fuss, here are some stories we might have missed…

“Like trying to waltz with a wolf:” Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on the history of campus- and NFL free-speech battles.

Things are still weird in Mississippi. Hechinger looks at the ways history textbooks in the Magnolia State still leave out big chunks of uncomfortable history.Bart reading bible

SCOTUS gears up to rule on teachers’ unions. Can non-members really be forced to pay union fees?

Want to play football against the College of the Ozarks? Be sure none of your players take a knee during the national anthem.

Should Virginia Tech fire its alleged white-supremacist teaching assistant? Or is he protected by academic freedom?

Chris Lehmann takes apart the myth that good schools will lead to economic mobility, in The Baffler. HT: D

Why did so many academic historians pooh-pooh Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s new Vietnam War documentary? Jon Zimmerman offers a simple explanation at CHE. HT: NBR

Now they’ve got teachers doing it! Massachusetts substitute kneels during the Pledge of Allegiance. HT: MM

Mick Zais hated the Common Core all the way to the White House.

One liberal college’s attempt to attract conservative students, from Inside Higher Education.

Thanks to all SAGLRROILYBYGTH who sent in stories and tips.

Always Look for the Union Label

It’s back. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear another teacher-union case. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are painfully aware, the conservative sport of teacher-union-bashing has a long history. The current case will likely redefine the landscape of school unionism.

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Commies, unions, and teachers, c. 1938

As I explored in my book about educational conservatism, beginning in the 1930s conservative activists attacked teachers’ unions as dangerous fronts for communist subversion. Conservative patriotic groups exposed the connection of unions to leftist academics such as Harold Rugg. They pushed successfully for loyalty laws to sniff out subversive teachers.

In cities like New York, during the 1940s and 1950s, such union-bashing achieved great political success. Fueled by the testimony of former-communist-turned-witness Bella Dodd, the New York City School Board declared war on communist-affiliated teachers’ unions.

In her 1954 book School of Darkness, Dodd explained that communists actively sought influence—secret influence—in teachers’ unions. They fought for innocuous-sounding perks such as teacher tenure. They screened their subversion, Dodd claimed, by using intentionally misleading labels such as the “Friends of the Free Public Schools.”

In reality, Dodd warned, the Communist Party

establishes such authority over its members that it can swing their emotions now for and now against the same person or issue.

Teachers might be well-meaning folks, Dodd wrote, but at best they served as dupes for mind-controlling communist spies and sneaks. Such warnings carried great political weight. As historian Clarence Taylor has pointed out, by 1955 239 teachers and board personnel had been forced out of New York City schools, accused of subversion.

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From Hearst’s New York Journal-American, July 7, 1948.

No one these days is going to stand in front of SCOTUS and accuse teacher unions of communist subversion. The issue is still one of left-leaning political influence, though. The most recent case before this one, Friedrichs v. California, hoped to give teachers freedom to refuse to pay union dues. In many states, even if they don’t join the union, teachers have to pay a portion of the union’s dues, since the union bargains collectively for all teachers.

Justice Scalia’s death forced that case into a 4-4 deadlock.

Plaintiffs in the new case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, hope the new court will give them a decisive win. The plaintiffs are hoping to be allowed to opt out, since, as Rebecca Friedrichs argued in the previous case, union support is “quintessentially political.” Forcing teachers or other workers to pay for political activism, plaintiffs insist, violates their rights.

With Neil Gorsuch filling Justice Scalia’s seat, it’s likely they’ll win. No one’s saying “communist subversion” anymore, but the long legacy of conservative anxiety about teachers’ unions remains politically potent.

SCOTUS Decision: Who’s the Bigot Here?

The script isn’t new. In every culture-war battle these days, both sides like to call each other bigots. The recent landmark SCOTUS ruling is no different. When the Court ruled this week that a church school cannot be prevented from receiving public funds, both sides insisted they are on the side of the anti-bigotry angels. From this historian’s perspective, one side has the much better case. Am I off base?

If you’ve been following the Trinity Lutheran case, you’ve heard all about “Blaine Amendments.” Yesterday, SCOTUS ruled 7-2 that Missouri could not exclude a religious school from receiving public funds for its playground. The school had applied for a grant to re-surface its playground. The state of Missouri, though, rejected the otherwise successful application because its state constitution prohibits funding religious schools, in a clause popularly known as a “Blaine Amendment.”

So far, so good.

The majority in this case fulfilled the dreams of conservatives such as Clarence Thomas. Blaine Amendments, Thomas has long argued, have their roots in anti-Catholic prejudice. As a product of 1870s bigotry, they deserve to be consigned to the scrapheap of historical justice. In his opinion in Mitchell v. Helms (2000), for example, Justice Thomas excoriated such doctrines as “born of bigotry.”

Is he right? The other side insists that the real bigots are the ones who want to erode the goal of a secular government. The true bigots, they’d say, are the folks like Clarence Thomas who hope to chip away at the post-World-War-II SCOTUS consensus that there should be a firm wall of separation between church and state. The ultimate goal of such SCOTUS scheming is to take away the hard-won rights of religious and non-religious minorities, to cram majority Christianity down the throats of Americans of all backgrounds.

Who has the better argument?

On one hand, Justice Thomas isn’t totally wrong. Although savvy historians such as Benjamin Justice of Rutgers have made a good case against him, the Blaine Amendments really do have roots as relics of anti-Catholic populist bigotry.

In his terrific book The Bible, the School, and the Constitution, Steven K. Green describes the context in which the Blaine Amendments took off. From Green’s perspective, Justice Thomas’s argument is far too simplistic. Senator Blaine himself wasn’t an anti-Catholic bigot. His mother was Catholic and he sent his kids to Catholic schools. Moreover, as Green points out, there was not a single “Blaine Amendment” and the supporters of such amendments had a variety of motivations, not just anti-Catholic bigotry.green bible school constitution

However, just because Blaine wasn’t an anti-Catholic bigot, his amendment certainly played to the popular anti-Catholic bigotry of his day, as Green also relates. In the years following the Civil War, the Republican Party used popular anti-Catholic sentiment as a campaign tool. Leaders such as Blaine and Grant inflamed the anti-Catholic prejudices of voters in order to discredit their rivals in the Democratic Party, the traditional political home of Irish Catholics.

Blaine’s proposed Constitutional amendment was at least in part a House-of-Cards-style attempt to inflame anti-Catholic bigotry. According to Green, contemporary newspapers recognized Blaine’s proposal as fueling “the excitement of Protestant fanaticism.” Rallies in support of the Blaine Amendment made no secret of it. They insisted the anti-Catholic measure would guarantee the victory of “the promulgation of the doctrines of true religion” in America.

So, although Justice Thomas distorts the history of the Blaine Amendments by over-emphasizing this bigoted anti-Catholic support, he is not wrong to suggest that supporters often did react out of knee-jerk Protestant chauvinism. Though the Blaine Amendment failed, its language was incorporated in one way or another into several state constitutions, including Missouri’s.

In this historian’s opinion, however, there is a more important flaw lurking in Justice Thomas’s use of the history of Blaine Amendments, due either to surprising ignorance or profound cynicism. If bigotry lurked at the heart of the Blaine Amendment, precisely the same bigotry has fueled a generation of conservative attempts to wedge religion—a certain form of religion—back into America’s public schools. When Justice Thomas fights against Blaine-ist bigotry, he is promoting the very same.

The dangerous, bigoted implication—in Blaine’s day or in ours—is that there is one type of religion that is somehow more American than others. To my mind, this is the big danger in this debate, and it is a danger that has worried conservative religious people as much as secular progressives like myself.

As Robert Daniel Rubin argues in his terrific new book Judicial Review and American Conservatism, since the 1970s religious conservatives have fought against the separation of church and state in order to restore Christianity to its place as America’s de facto religion. As part of this campaign, since the days of Senator Jesse Helms and Justice William Rehnquist, conservatives have pushed to wedge more and more Christian prayer and Bible-reading back into schools.rubin book

Moral-Majority types have always valued the privileges of Christian majorities over the rights of religious (or non-religious) minorities. Justice Rehnquist, for example, thought the primary goal of courts should be to defend the rights of majorities to promulgate their doctrines in public institutions, including public schools. As Rubin puts it (pg. 214), Justice Rehnquist felt

solicitude toward the majority and its capacity to fashion policies embodying its moral and political preferences. To honor dissenters’ rights more jealously than states’ laws was to disgrace the democratic process.

Just like Senator Blaine and Justice Thomas, Justice Rehnquist wouldn’t have called this solicitude “bigotry.” In the end, though, if we have to play the bigotry card, I can’t help but think that Thomas has the weaker case.

Why? The most dangerous, bigoted notion in these cases, IMHO, is the implication that there is a real American religion, that Christianity (or Protestantism, or evangelical Protestantism) have somehow a better claim to government support. In this idea lurks the true and dangerous bigotry in this perennial conflict. It is a bigotry, to be fair, that has been strenuously opposed by plenty of religious conservatives themselves. As we’ve noted in these pages, many conservative evangelicals are horrified by the notion that theirs is somehow a merely “American” religion.

Among conservative evangelicals, however, it has proven difficult to oppose moral-majoritarianism. And so we come to our culture-war battle over the proper role of Christian religion in public schools. One on side, we have conservatives who fight to include Christian sentiment and activity in government-funded activities, including schools. On the other, we have progressives who favor a strict secularity in government funding.

Ideally, we could have these discussions without calling each other bigots. When it comes right down to it, though, if we are going to start flinging mud, the balance seems clear to me: In this case the bigger bigots are those who hope to cram Christianity back into public schools. They ignore the rights of minorities; they insist that their ideas are right for everybody.

Many SAGLRROILYBYGTH will likely disagree. What do YOU think? Is it fair to call pro-Christian activism “bigotry?” Or do Christian groups have a right to legal protection from anti-religious “bigotry” such as the so-called Blaine Amendments?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Your humble editor has been distracted lately by all the excitement of our New York National History Day competition in scenic Cooperstown, New York. The rest of the world, though, kept on rollin. Here are some of the stories we might have missed…

What does Steve Bannon think of God? Hugh Urban describes Bannon’s theology at Religion & Politics.

Baylor picks its first woman president. Is this a new normal for evangelical higher education?

The latest from the Lutherans: Check out coverage of the Missouri church/school case currently before SCOTUS.

Trinity Lutheran v. Missouri, No.15-577

Can religious schools get ANY public money? How much? …for what?

Can arch-creationist Ken Ham support the March for Science? The answer won’t surprise you.

Will school lunches get fat again? Trump’s pick for the USDA might roll back nutrition guidelines for school meals, from Politico. (Scroll down).

The Coming Split at Conservative Colleges

Is your school for bigots?…Or for apostates? That’s the choice that conservative school leaders have faced throughout the twentieth century. And it is coming round again. As the US Supreme Court hears arguments about same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, conservative religious schools and colleges should gear up for another divisive debate over equality and theology. If SCOTUS rules in favor of same-sex marriage, will evangelical and fundamentalist schools face a return to the hot tempers of 1971?

More bad news for conservatives...

More bad news for conservatives…

The case itself is a combination of cases from four states. In short, SCOTUS is trying to decide two issues: whether or not the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriage; and whether or not same-sex marriages in one state must be recognized by all states.

Conservative Christians have made their feelings clear. Among the hundreds of friend-of-the-court letters are one from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and one from Governor Mike Huckabee’s advocacy group.

At the Christian Post this morning, we see nervous worries about the possible fall-out for conservative Christian schools. Justice Samuel Alito made an explicit reference to the precedent on every conservative’s mind: the Bob Jones University case. Back in 1970, the leaders of BJU refused to allow racial integration on their South Carolina campus. As a result, the Internal Revenue Service took away BJU’s tax-exempt status. By 1983, BJU had taken its case all the way to the Supreme Court. It lost.

Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if the precedent would apply:

JUSTICE ALITO:  Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating.  So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­ sex marriage?

GENERAL VERRILLI:  You know, I ­­ I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. ­ I don’t deny that.  I don’t deny that, Justice Alito.  It is ­­ it is going to be an issue.

Conservatives worry that this might mean the end of religious schools and colleges. Should religious schools refuse to provide housing for same-sex married couples, the federal government could revoke their tax-exempt status. For most schools, that would mean a sudden and impossibly steep tax bill. When schools are already teetering on the brink of financial insolvency, it could certainly mean the end.

But that’s not all. If history is any guide, Christian school leaders should also prepare for another kind of crisis. Back in the 1970s, fundamentalist schools endured a vicious and destructive split over Bob Jones University’s position on racial segregation.

As I’ve been finding in the archives this past year, even schools that agreed with BJU’s fundamentalist theology sometimes disagreed with BJU’s position against interracial marriage. At the Moody Bible Institute, for example, leaders decided to cancel an invitation to pro-BJU fundamentalist leader John R. Rice. The decision subjected MBI’s leaders to withering criticism from fundamentalists nationwide.

Reporters and observers have noted that SCOTUS’s decision in this case might raise questions for leaders of conservative religious schools. Those leaders should also consider another likely outcome. If SCOTUS’s decision puts pressure on school leaders to recognize same-sex marriages, it might lead to another in a long line of bitter fights among schools.

Will conservative evangelicals and Catholics submit to the law of the land? Or will they resist, citing a higher authority? Will conservative schools lose their conservative credibility if they give in to the new cultural ethos?

It’s not going to be an easy choice. If I were the president of a conservative Christian school or college, I’d get myself ready for a lose-lose decision. Do I want my school to be labeled a bunch of fanatical bigots? Or would I prefer to join the ranks of schools that don’t take their religions very seriously?