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On multiple fronts, Republicans target church-state separation

To the extent that opposition to the separation of church and state faded as a far-right priority, it’s clearly back with a vengeance.


The so-called “culture war” is not new, though the focus on specific social issues tends to shift over time. Recently, for example, the right’s culture warriors have put together a lengthy list of priorities, some of which are relatively new: Social conservatives’ to-do list includes everything from abortion restrictions to book banning, anti-trans measures to hysterics about critical race theory.

But to the extent that opposition to the separation of church and state faded as a far-right priority, it’s clearly back with a vengeance.

There was some evidence of this at the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Justice Neil Gorsuch, for example, used rhetoric about church-state separation that echoed televangelists’ phrasing, and he and his fellow Republican-appointed colleagues issued some rulings this term that turned back the clock on religious liberty.

But GOP politicians have been even more overt.

Last year, for example, Rep. Lauren Boebert declared, “The church is supposed to direct the government.” The Colorado Republican added, “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.” Around the same time, GOP leaders pointed to government-imposed school prayer as a possible solution to gun violence, while in Florida, as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative, high school educators were being told to tell students that the nation’s founders did not champion church-state separation, despite reality.

It was against this backdrop that Donald Trump prepared a prerecorded video address for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition on Saturday night, which included this vow:

Under my leadership, we will bring back God to our schools and our public squares — and that will happen very quickly.

As part of the same gathering, Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who has not yet formally launched his national campaign, was asked what the next president should do to protect religious liberty. “We must tell the story of our Constitution that the First Amendment was written to protect the church from the state, not the state from the church,” the South Carolinian said, peddling ahistorical nonsense.

A few days earlier, NBC News published this report on developments in Texas.

The Texas Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would require the prominent display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, reigniting a debate over the role of religion in schools and parental rights. The measure, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Phil King, states that every public elementary or secondary school must “display in a conspicuous place in each classroom of the school a durable poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments” starting in September.

The measure passed the GOP-led state Senate on Thursday and is now pending in the GOP-led state House.

The separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our system of government. It’s also a principle much of the Republican Party seems eager to discard.