Remember when Republicans whined constantly in 2009 and 2010 that the Democratic majority was trampling their rights? Remember when they complained about majority rule and used their minority in Congress to obstruct any and all bills? Remember when they referred to majority rule as tyranny when Democrats controlled the House, and still do because Democrats control the Senate? Well, conservative Christian pastors in Tennessee are doing an about-face to force God down the throats of every non-Christian in the state, and they are perfectly willing to violate the Constitution to do so.
In February 2013, the county commission of Anderson County in Tennessee voted 12-4 in favor of inscribing the words ‘In God We Trust’ on the outside of the county courthouse. Just this week, the first of what will be four signs carrying the phrase was installed. According to Raw Story, “each granite plaque weighs 170 pounds and has the words “In God We Trust” in gold leaf lettering.”
The decision of the county commission and the unveiling on Tuesday has divided the county. Christian pastors, however, are telling non-Christians and the ACLU to go to hell. Raw Story reports that local pastors are invoking majority rule as an excuse to ignore and justify the violation of the constitutional rights of non-Christians.
“This is people standing up for what they believe in,” said Steve McDonald, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church. “We have a right to the democratic process and majority rule.””
And Clinton Baptist Association Director of Missions Tom Byrge stated that “Whether you agree with this or disagree with this, the democratic process took place. The majority of the U.S. citizens will continue to believe, and will not be ashamed to say, ‘In God We Trust.’”
Here’s the video:
Except that in this case, the democratic process wasn’t properly adhered to when the commission voted to pass the measure. Committee Chair Robin Biloski said in February that the bill was passed swiftly by the full commission without a committee hearing to give full consideration of the measure and to allow citizens to add their voices to the debate. No committee hearing was ever convened to debate the measure. Therefore, there was no democratic process involved. The majority ran roughshod over the citizenry of Anderson County and the non-Christian minority and imposed their religious will on them in defiance of constitutional law.
In response to the measure, the Tennessee chapter of the ACLU has stated that,
“People of all faiths, as well as non-believers, should feel welcome in their government buildings. The County Commission should focus on doing real work that represents the interests of all residents, not sowing the seeds of religious divisiveness in the community by challenging the fundamental founding principle that government must remain neutral when it comes to matters of faith.”
Indeed, the separation of church and state mandates that government is prohibited from respecting an establishment of religion. It’s plain as day in the Constitution, and for good reason. The Founding Fathers wanted America to be a land where people of all faiths or none at all could practice their beliefs, or lack of, freely without fear of being oppressed. As such, the government was to remain neutral on religious matters and execute civil law and protect those whose rights were being infringed upon. In short, the government is supposed to make law that represents the interests of America as a whole, and certainly not for a group of religious bigots. For almost 200 years, this system, while not perfect, worked. Then the 1950s happened.
In 1954, right-wing Christian groups lobbied the Republican-controlled government to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Two years later in 1956, these same groups successfully lobbied to place “In God We Trust” on our money as a replacement or alternative to the E pluribus unum motto the Founding Fathers chose in 1782 for the Great Seal of the United States. In contrast to “In God We Trust,” E pluribus unum is Latin for ‘Out of many, one.’ As such, the motto specifically chosen by the Founders is far more inclusive. “In God We Trust” on the other hand, specifically refers to the Christian deity. The Christian Right will deny this, of course, and will point to Court rulings that have disingenuously claimed that the alternative motto is not religious and that it does not specifically mean that government is respecting the establishment of the Christian religion. But they are wrong. If American currency were to suddenly say “In Allah We Trust,” you can bet that the Christian Right would throw a temper tantrum about it. And you can be damn sure that the current conservative-leaning Supreme Court would freak out over it too. That’s because to conservatives, America is a Christian state that should be ruled by Biblical law. We don’t refer to the Christian deity as “Allah.” We refer to the deity as “God.” So by inscribing “In God We Trust” on government buildings, money, and so on, the government is clearly respecting an establishment of religion, which is barred by the Constitution. If the Founding Fathers wanted to establish Christianity as the state religion, they would have done so and would have stated as much in the Constitution, but they didn’t.
When Christians invoke majority rule, they commit hypocrisy since they were the ones who whined the loudest when Democrats used majority rule to pass laws for the benefit of everyone in our society. Infrastructure, jobs, health, food safety, labor laws- all of these are in the interest of the people as a whole. But passing a clear respecting of the Christian religion in violation of the rights of non-Christians is only in the interest of a few religious extremists. Therefore, Anderson County was not exercising majority rule. They were exercising the tyranny of the majority.