Content Note: Christofascism
I’m writing this on the eve of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and I’m reminded of Fascism: a warning. Secretary Albright’s book is a bitterly difficult book to read, but a necessary one for anyone interested in political Shadow Work. She describes fascism not as a political ideology, but as a method of seizing power. While Brett Kavanaugh may not be the exact flavor of White Evangelical Christian that is oh-so-fashionable in the current administration, he is a good little Christofascist and the first mature product of their long game. Brett Kavanaugh will compliantly support this administrations’ grabs for power. As if that weren’t immediately obvious from Kavanaugh signaling that he would be against indicting a sitting president.
Christofascists use Christianity as a cudgel to consolidate and abuse power. American White Evangelical Christians aren’t unique in this, they’re just the ones doing it here. At a baseline level, Kavanaugh’s record worries. If this were a normal presidency, with a president who behaved according to our norms and institutions, I would focus on specific issues (although I still wouldn’t want him anywhere near the Supreme Court). Combined with the Mueller investigation and the appalling behavior over the Merrick Garland nomination, I don’t want the GOP to have the opportunity to choose their own judges.
All that said because this isn’t normal, I’m specifically worried about how Kavanaugh’s personal religious life will impact his rulings. Because the personal is political. State-run media outlet Fox News is already touting Kavanaugh as someone who will defend the “most sacred right” to religious freedom. The more radical (but still well read) Religion News claims Kavanaugh will do his job to “apply the law objectively, without regard to his personal views….he understands that our founders believed deeply in religious liberty and that the Constitution they wrote protects the free exercise of religion”. Now, I’m a Pagan and a Witch, I believe all sorts of woo. But you will never be able to convince me that Kavanaugh knows exactly how the founding fathers felt about the freedom of religion, and I will bet all my student loans that the founders did not use the definition that we use today.
Further, the political is personal and the personal is political. Much like systemic racism makes “white” the perceived default race; White Evangelical Christianity makes “Christian” the perceived default religion. I very much doubt Kavanaugh, who was the chair of the Federalist Society’s religious liberty practice group, has the self-awareness to see that. After all, the Federalist Society is the incubation tank for baby Christofascists who want to be judges with they grow up.
In all the articles about the nomination are Christofascist dog whistles, the loudest of which are “religious liberty” and “religious freedom”. Let’s be honest when Christians say that, they mean “religious liberty for us” and “religious freedom for religions like ours”; not for anyone else. Those whistles ring loud and clear for Trump supporters. But there is a second set of whistles for the rest of us, where well-known conservative groups say Kavanaugh isn’t conservative enough. The Federalist has an article like this. Large media outlets like Slate report on how the American Family Association, the National Review, and the Human Coalition are lukewarm on Kavanaugh.
This supposedly ambivalent response to Kavanaugh is just as dangerous at the blatant support of Kavanaugh. He only seems conservative in comparison to the literal shit storm raging around us. This fire is not fine. This isn’t a moment when we should sit down and take the “lesser evil”. This is a moment when we should realize the lesser evil is a greater evil hiding behind a bland mayo exterior.
And by his own actions, Kavanaugh is definitely a Christofascist mess.
His origin story in the Federalist Society set Kavanaugh up to be a religious crusader, and he was even before he sat down at the White House or on a bench. Kavanaugh did pro bono work on Good News Club v. Milford Central School and in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, both cases that focussed on students ability to have Christian after-school groups and student-led prayer at football games. Where someone puts their unpaid pro bono hours is a good indicator of what they value.
Some may point a third pro bono case where Kavanaugh worked to change the zoning for a synagogue that wanted to build in a residential area. At first glance, this may seem like a sign of equitable religious tolerance. But consider for a moment, Evangelical Christians and hyper-conservative Catholics have an affinity for Judaism because they expect the Jews to kick start the apocalypse. So his defense isn’t unexpected. Further, this case was in the 1990’s and since then we’ve seen White Evangelical churches popping up in residential areas like daisies. Correlation is not causation, but it does cast suspicion.
On the bench, his stance on four cases are equally suspicious and concerning.
Priests for Life v. United States Department of Health is one of the most well known of Kavanaughs cases, and likely to be covered more in depth during the confirmation hearings. I will point out this nugget of joy though regarding the birth control mandate regulations that “substantially burden the religious organizations’ exercise of religion because the regulations require the organizations take an action contrary to their sincere religious beliefs (submitting the form) or else pay significant monetary penalties”.
The Archdiocese of Washington v. WMATA focuses on proselytizing on public transport. The Archdiocese of Washington wanted to put an ad in the public buses at Christmas time that said: “Find the Perfect Gift” with shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem. WMATA rejected the ad, and the Archdiocese sued. The case hasn’t been settled yet, but during oral arguments, Kavanaugh called the ban “pure discrimination” and odious to the First Amendment.
In Boardley v. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service stopped a man from passing out Christian material at Mt. Rushmore. Currently, a park official has to issue a permit for those types of activities. Boardley didn’t have a permit, and when the National Park Service made him stop he claimed that they were limiting his ability to exercise his religion. Kavanaugh was in the majority agreeing that “the regulations in their current form are antithetical to the core of First Amendment principles.”
Last is Newdow v. Roberts, atheist activist Michael Newdow sued Chief Justice Roberts over the phrase “so help me God” in Obama’s first inauguration, as well as the prayers delivered by Reverend Warren and Reverend Lowery. Kavanaugh responded with “stripping government ceremonies of any reference to God or religious expression…would, in effect, ‘establish’ atheism”. While that particular quote demonstrates a fundamental inability to understand or empathize with the 26% of Americans who aren’t Christian there’s a worse one. “In our constitutional tradition, all citizens are equally American, no matter what God they worship or if they worship no god at all” however, they “cannot dismiss the desire of others in America to publicly ask for God’s blessing on certain government activities and to publicly seek God’s guidance for certain government officials”.
Let that sink in for a moment. Kavanaugh just tried to say we’re all equally American, but some Americans religion supersedes the religion of everyone else. Pair that with the rest of his rulings, and Kavanaugh doesn’t look like a Christofascist. He is one. This is very bad for Americans who aren’t the specific flavor of Christianity that’s in vogue when Kavanaugh makes his rulings.
There’s a lot to discuss about Kavanaugh. But by any and every metric, he’s a bad judicial pick for Americans, America, and the American dream. And you should call your Senator because this shouldn’t be allowed to stand.