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Josh Hawley and “religious freedom”: his freedom means your slavery.


Josh Hawley believes in religious freedom– his own, that is. He has made the assertion, in published documents and speeches, that only Christian values are “in the right” and that his way is the only right way. This means, to him, that American law should privilege Christian rights over the rights of all other religions and particularly over secular rights. Notice from the photo that he also doesn’t bother to wear a mask in public.

First, there has been blowback over Hawley’s support for the insurrectionists and rioters at the Capitol on January 6. His support was notoriously evidenced by the photo above, in which he walked past the crowd in front of the Capitol and raised his fist in support. The photo comes from an NBC news article about him, which is titled (in its URL) as “Sen Josh Hawley becomes public enemy no 1 on cap hill” although the article itself is titled “Sen. Josh Hawley becomes a pariah on Capitol Hill.”

Second, there are his previous writings and speeches, which are described in this January 11 New York Times opinion piece by Katherine Stewart titled “The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage”. Ms. Stewart has reported on the religious right for over a decade.

Mr. Hawley claims his bona fides based on a deep reading of ancient Christian history and condemns the heresies of a monk named Pelagius who was born in 4th century Britain. Pelagius was known for his teachings on Christian morality. Ms. Stewart’s article begins with the note that:

In a 2019 commencement address at the King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

Ms. Stewart describes Mr. Hawley’s address as subscribing to the Church Father’s denunciation of Pelagius’ teachings. They called Pelagius’ doctrines a “terrifying variety of heresy.” Mr. Hawley denounced Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the 1992 ruling on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. In that opinion, Kennedy wrote: ““At the heart of liberty… is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Thus, Mr. Hawley believes that individuals do not have the right to define their own concepts of existence, meaning, the universe, or of the mystery of human life. The Christian (Catholic, in this case) Church is the only sanctioned arbiter of the concepts of existence. Ms. Stewart says that “Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right.”

In another speech, in 2017, Mr. Hawley endorsed the views of the neo-Calvinist Dutch Reformed theologian (and onetime prime minister) Abraham Kuyper, who died in 1920. Kuyper believed that Dutch society should be separated by religion with distinct primary and secondary schools, universities, and social organizations for each denomination. Kuyper is associated with the philosophy of Christian nationalism, which maintains that Christian values should be codified in the legal structure of government.

Mr. Hawley’s takeaway from the philosophy of Abraham Kuyper is that, as Ms. Stewart says, “Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life.” Thus, secular values, even though they match Christian values in such essential aspects as the prohibitions against violence, theft, fraud, incest, and so on, are not sufficient to give us our full framework of laws.

According to Christian nationalists, law should include prohibitions against such aspects of personal freedom as control over one’s own body. Homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, miscegenation, contraception, and abortion are subject to the control and prohibitions of law and government according to this worldview. This view also includes the prohibition of the use of a number of drugs including cannabis, mescaline, peyote, and “magic mushrooms”, even under a doctor’s prescription.

These views are profoundly alien to secular thought. Only a religion-centered thinker who ignores our Constitution would believe that a person should be bound under a national government to the rules of that religion. Yet these are Josh Hawley’s views.

In his 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project (founded by David Lane, who has tried to connect right-wing pastors with Christian nationalists in politics) Mr. Hawley made the following statement with reference to Abraham Kuyper’s view that Christianity is the sole legitimate authority in government:

“We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm… That is our charge. To take the lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

In this respect, Mr. Hawley’s views mesh closely with those of the former Attorney General William Barr, who made similar remarks in a speech to the University of Notre Dame Law School:

[Mr. Barr blamed] “the growing ascendancy of secularism” for amplifying “virtually every measure of social pathology,” and maintained that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”

These views are contrary to the First Amendment of our Constitution, as interpreted by our Supreme Court. The First Amendment states that there shall be no “establishment of religion” and this means that the views of any one religion (including the Christian religion) cannot bind citizens or residents of the United States. Freedoms established by the common consent of secular persons cannot be abridged by our laws.

The tendency of our government over the last four years has been towards Christian religious control over the freedoms of our people. Continued control by our current president would trend ever more dangerously towards restriction of our secular freedoms.

Due to his policy and promotion of conservative anti-abortion judges, Christian nationalists have tolerated the outrageous amorality of he-who-must-not-be-named and have tried to nullify the results of the November 3 election with spurious claims of fraud. Numerous right-wing pastors have supported the attempts to decertify the Electoral College results, although they have shied away from support for the violent attempts to take over the Capitol and possibly to assassinate members of Congress on January 6.

Mr. Hawley has fully supported the current president and has made claims to be anti-elite or populist, although the elites he seems to object to are of the secular type. He favors the religious right’s idea of elites, as Ms. Stewart describes:

Yet Mr. Hawley isn’t against elites per se. He is all for an elite, provided that it is a religiously righteous elite. He is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, and he clerked for John Roberts, the chief justice. Mr. Hawley, in other words, is a successful meritocrat of the Federalist Society variety.

Mr. Hawley is a dangerous opportunist who subscribes to Christian nationalist views and wants to restrict our secular freedoms by passage of laws and institution of government policies. He has in mind running for higher office, particularly the presidency, with the support of a large minority of Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalist views. Only the unified opposition of Americans who believe in secular human freedoms can stop his usurpation of power.

We, the secular majority (and religious people who believe in the freedoms of others) must emphasize that Mr. Hawley’s views are contrary to our Constitution and that the freedoms guaranteed in this Constitution must not be abridged under our laws or government.

(Josh Hawley with raised fist to rioters via AP)

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