Just days after some in the media declared the Religious Right to be losing its political power, evangelical favorite U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) won the Iowa caucus thanks to a big turnout from his base.
Fox News reported last night that early entrance polls found 62 percent of Republican caucus voters identified as “born-again” Christians, a significantly higher percentage than had been anticipated. Although Cruz did not get even 30 percent of the total votes cast, he earned enough for a comfortable win over real estate mogul Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
With his win secure last night, in his usual fashion Cruz turned his victory speech into a revival event. In a typically arrogant move, he said, “To God be the glory” for his triumph.
As political observers can attest, such claims of deity approval have been common during this election cycle. Just before the caucus, Phil Robertson, the rabidly anti-gay star of the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” said while stumping for Cruz that marriage equality is “evil, it’s wicked, it’s sinful and they want us to swallow it.”
In a separate interview, Robertson also made the bizarre claim that Cruz “loves James Madison” because the Founding Father once said that the United States was built “on the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves based on the Ten Commandments of God.”
We don’t know for sure how Cruz feels about Madison, but as frequent readers of this blog know, that Madison quote is completely fake. He never said it.
Cruz and Robertson were not the only Religious Right figures to make some wild claims about religion in recent days. Last night, just ahead of his fourth-place finish in the caucus, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson lashed out at advocates of church-state separation, calling them schizophrenic.
“[T]here are those who go around proclaiming ‘Separation of church and state! You can’t put anything up that has anything to do with God, certainly nothing to do with Jesus Christ,’ and, you know, ‘I’ll have a seizure if I see a cross,’ and all this kind of crap, you know…. The fact of the matter is: Do they realize that our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, says we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, a.k.a. God? That the Pledge of Allegiance says we’re one nation ‘under God’? Most courtrooms, on the wall, it says ‘In God We Trust.’ Every coin in our pocket, every bill in our wallet, says ‘In God We Trust.’ If it’s in our founding documents, it’s in our Pledge, in our courts, and it’s on our money, but we’re not supposed to talk about it, what in the world is that? In medicine, we call it ‘schizophrenia.’” (Thanks to Friendly Atheist blog for the transcript.)
There’s a lot here to correct. First, Carson is wrong that the public square is completely devoid of religious content. While it is best for government to remain neutral on matters of religion, religious displays exist permissibly on government property all over the country. Privately sponsored displays during the December holiday season are one example. As long as multiple viewpoints have the opportunity to participate, there is nothing wrong with this.
Second, Carson misrepresents the importance of the Declaration of Independence. While it is a major historical document, it has zero legal authority. The U.S. Constitution, on which our entire government is based, makes no mention of God.
Third, while the examples that Carson cites to “prove” America is against church-state separation are all accurate, they are also problematic for everyone. Not one dates to the founding period of the United States and all are examples of “ceremonial deism,” a watered-down, meaningless version of religion that the U.S. Supreme Court has said is acceptable in public spaces. In reality, “ceremonial deism” satisfies no one -- probably not even Carson.
Carson’s rant was far too little too late, however, as he earned just 9 percent of the caucus vote. He is now apparently off to his home in Florida to get a change of clothes.
With religiously conservative Iowa in the rearview mirror, it’s possible that the amount of faith-based rhetoric swirling around the 2016 presidential election will drop off. But with the likes of Cruz, Rubio and Carson still in contention, don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon. We’re in for a long haul.
P.S. Remember in 2012 when Religious Right favorite Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucus? Last night he garnered 1 percent – and even one of his own precinct captains admits he didn’t vote for him. Ouch!