The attempt by Christian terrorists to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, an event born out of long-standing political division, was not a complete surprise. Unlike the saying “If you see something, say something,” the insurrection has its roots in seeing something and saying nothing.

The United States has a long history of doing just that. The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision enables any company to discriminate against any employee if who they are offends the owner’s sincerely held Christian beliefs. The Senate refused to hear a Supreme Court nominee eight months before an election and then forced through the seating of an unqualified Supreme Court justice, a Christian activist, two weeks before an election, violating the overriding constitutional principle of checks and balances between the three branches of government. Without checks and balances, all three branches can, and have, denied political and religious freedoms to “outsiders.”

These and other assaults on America’s democracy gave Christian Nationalists the impetus to “stand back and stand by,” culminating in an attempted government overthrow on Jan. 6.

The time to stand up and say something is when our constitutional rights are violated; after the fact is too little, too late. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have been standing up for our constitutional rights as violations occur.

Jeffery Robinson, ACLU deputy legal director, made this point during an ACLU “At Liberty” podcast. He said insurrection did not start on Wednesday, Jan. 6, and anyone whose eyes were open would have seen this coming for a very long time. Racism and white supremacy have been at the core of American society since its inception. Seeing Confederate and white supremacist flags flying side by side during the insurrection shows these ideologies still drive some groups opposed to American democracy.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been raising awareness about the dangers of theocratic extremism for decades. FFRF is “hopeful the attack on the Capitol has opened the nation’s eyes. New photos, videos, and reportage are continually emerging that illuminate the links between this attack and Christian Nationalism,” co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said.

“Bibles, shirts, flags, placards, patches, crucifixes, crosses, and prayers were omnipresent during the attack. Christian Nationalism is not going away even though its champion is no longer president. FFRF will continue to work to expose the insidious, anti-democratic nature of Christian Nationalism and its role in the attempted overthrow of our government.”

The Heritage Foundation and other Christian groups are working to make the “insidious, anti-democratic nature of Christian Nationalism” the law of the land. Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation writes conservatives of faith must “oppose a progressive agenda that promises more government programs and regulations, more taxes and spending that would take us down the road to socialism, the stated goal of the winning party’s platform” and defend “traditional American values based on our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

The line about “traditional American values based on our Judeo-Christian heritage” is a coded message. Its Orwellian meaning is to create social laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman, says life begins at conception, and abortion is murder. The economic message is to preserve socialism for the wealthy, keep rugged individualism for the proletariat, oppose a national federal minimum wage, and fight universal health care.

Edwards is correct. We are a divided nation, but he is wrong about the source. We are divided because the Heritage Foundation and other Christian political groups believe the country was established as a Christian nation for wealthy white men. These groups deny fundamental human rights to every other group, especially women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. Until we can agree everyone has a right to universal health care, to marry who they love, and to be paid a living wage, and that women have the right to plan their family, we will remain divided.

Abraham Lincoln was right; a country divided cannot stand. Nations united around respecting fundamental human rights are happier, healthier, have a more highly educated workforce, a robust economy, and enjoy a higher standard of living than countries with repressive governments.

Suppose the Heritage Foundation and other white evangelical Christian groups succeed in uniting all white Americans around their repressive social and economic policies. In that case, two things will be true:  The nation will effectively no longer be divided, and we will not stand.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected]


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