Here is an event I have no intention of honoring: American Religious History Week. OK, it’s not official yet. But it is spelled out as Resolution 888 in the bowels of a House committee, sponsored by Republican Congressman Randy Forbes and backed by thirty-one other Representatives. This is an insidious attempt by the radical Christian right to rewrite American history, to turn the founding fathers from deists into Christian fundamentalists, to proclaim us officially to be a Christian nation. If you want to know why Mike Huckabee is dangerous, why his brand of right-wing Christian populism is so frightening, you should read this resolution.
Sent to me by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the resolution has passages like this: “Whereas political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible” and “Whereas the United States Supreme Court has declared throughout the course of our Nation’s history that the United States is ‘a Christian country’, ‘a Christian nation’, ‘a Christian people’, ‘a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being’ and that ‘we cannot read into the Bill of Rights a philosophy of hostility to religion….'”
The resolution is staggering for its sheer volume of falsehoods about our history, our system of government and our democracy. It asserts that Thomas Jefferson “urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes, provided Federal funding for missionary work among Indian tribes, and declared that religious schools would receive ‘the patronage of the government.'” There are seventy-six preambular clauses like these, leading up to four resolution clauses, the third of which states that the House “rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation’s public buildings and educational resources.”
“House Resolution 888 is perhaps the most disgraceful, shocking and tragic example yet of the pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of the unconstitutional rape of our bedrock American citizens’ religious freedoms by the fundamentalist Christian right,” says Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a former White House counsel for President Reagan.
The resolution may never work its way out of committee, and even if it does, it may never be passed. But it is important because it expresses an increasingly influential ideology. It underlies the ideological appeal of the Huckabee campaign, however adroitly the Republican candidate dodges these issues when speaking to the general public. “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ,” Huckabee told a Baptist convention in 1998. He assured the crowd that he had not entered politics “because I thought government had a better answer. I got into
politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.” And this ideology, as illustrated by Mitt Romney’s coded appeal to Christian fundamentalists when giving his recent Texas speech on faith, or even John McCain’s humbling trip to Liberty University, has a powerful pull on Republican candidates.
I saw a persistent rewriting of history in numerous Christian history textbooks, used by hundreds of thousands of children, when I wrote American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. The revisionists take a minor historical event–in the case of the missionaries, drawing from very rare decisions to provide funds for mission schools or the building of a church on Indian lands–and use it to create a false portrait of a Christian nation. The resolution asserts that the Fourth of July was designed as a Christian holiday, and that in 1977 Congress authorized that Bibles be “printed under their care” and imported for dissemination to the American public. Congress never imported Bibles. But facts matter little.
It is a mistake, despite the seeming implosion of the Republican Party, to count these people out. The Christian radicals have, as the Huckabee candidacy illustrates, broken free from the fetters of their corporate and neocon handlers. They have unleashed a frightening populism that, in the event of an economic meltdown or period of instability, could see the movement ride the wave of a massive right-wing backlash. So when you get tired of the cute sound bites that constitute most coverage of these campaigns, pull out this resolution to remind yourself that we are playing with dynamite, that unless we begin to re-enfranchise tens of millions of Americans–and this means economically–back into the mainstream, unless we again give our workers the chance to earn a living wage, we will fail to blunt this movement and could well fall victim to it.