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The new authoritarians seek to punish people of faith

  | MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Anti-Christian wokeness has now assumed center stage in the United States and much of the Western world. This move exposes Christians to a rising tide of authoritarianism that disrespects and dishonors our faith.

Peter Gordon’s 2019 introduction to The Authoritarian Personality observes that this book, first published in 1950, remains a landmark in political psychology. Focused on the rise of anti-Semitism as a social disease of utmost hatred, the book’s major achievement was its exposition of the rise of fascism not merely as a political phenomenon but as the manifestation of the dispositions that lie at the core of the modern psyche. Its significant achievement was a study showing that the potential for tyranny lies not at the periphery but at the very heart of the modern and postmodern experience.

Recent developments in the United Kingdom and the United States confirm that Christians should prepare to deal with a new authoritarian phenomenon targeting people of faith. Great Britain, for instance, as part of the nation’s apparent effort to downplay Islamist extremism, applies a double standard to Christians. Recently, Britain’s anti-terrorism program has come under fire for treating actual Islamic terrorism as a mental illness while simultaneously claiming that people who read Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the literature of Christian traditionalists such as Milton, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton, are potentially part of a dangerous “far-right” movement that must be stopped.

Similar authoritarian moves are afoot in the United States. Consistently with the fact that anti-Christian views have assumed prominence, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan and Rep. Mike Johnson recently released internal documents showing that the FBI sought to recruit spies in conservative Catholic churches. Such conduct, ostensibly aimed at combatting domestic terrorism, amounts to an effort to recruit spies and chill religious speech. The House Judiciary Committee’s recent discovery of FBI internal documents follows the January 2023 confirmation of the bureau’s attempt to protect Virginia residents from the threat of “white supremacy” by surveilling churches.

The FBI launched this effort without supporting evidence of any overlap between the far-right white nationalist movement and Traditionalist Catholics who may prefer the Latin Mass. The FBI’s decision appears to be a pretext for launching an effort to silence churches, thus preventing them from clarifying their preferred approach to society’s major issues.

The FBI’s propensity to use surreptitious surveillance raises three questions. The questions include 1. whether the FBI has similarly targeted evangelical Christian churches, 2. whether the FBI has found evidence that conservative Christians are inclined to be anti-immigrant or antisemitic as the bureau suggests, and 3. by what authority has the FBI been weaponized to target Christians beyond its reliance on a somewhat sketchy left-wing group: the Southern Poverty Law Center?

At the same time, the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken a hard line against the Christian pro-life cause by weaponizing the law to go after pro-life protesters outside of abortion clinics. In one case, the DOJ sought to put Mark Houck, a pro-life advocate, in prison for 11 years for defending his son. In sharp contrast to the Houck case, the DOJ offered Maeve Nota, a trans vandal, a sweetheart plea deal despite assaulting a church worker, damaging church property, and resisting arrest. Simultaneously, the Justice Department has turned a blind eye to violent felons terrorizing churches.

These facts indicate that a double standard is at work. As such, three additional issues take center stage.

First, will the FBI next target practicing Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Jews who refuse to accept the DOJ’s preferred religious doctrine? Does the Department of Justice understand that the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the Constitution provide overlapping protection, which safeguards the American people’s fundamental right to the free expression of their faith? In 2022, the United States Supreme Court in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District reaffirmed constitutional protections for religious exercise. The Court held that the First Amendment protects an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal and interference.

Second, the FBI and the DOJ have deliberately decided to restrict conservatives’ right to engage in constitutionally protected speech and the free exercise of their faith. The targeting of Catholics and evangelicals in various spheres of our culture appears to be fashioned out of anti-Christian bigotry among our cultural and political elites. Elites suffering from the authoritarian personality see Christianity as a form of oppression. Alternatively, Christianity is viewed as a form of systemic racism. This quasi-religious viewpoint allows privileged elites to use their leftist ideology to blind them to the value of the Constitution.

Seeking approval from elites, the nation’s authorities have been unleashed to monitor social media for online beliefs. When the FBI promotes leftist, anti-religious political opinions in the public square, this signifies that they have taken one political and religious side over another despite the unconstitutionality of viewpoint discrimination. This policy suggests that the federal government has diminished our republic. This authoritarian approach, in violation of the Constitution, justifies the persecution and prosecution of Christians for practicing their faith.

The third issue becomes how should the American people respond to the FBI’s effort to interfere with our freedom of religion and place the Deep State’s thumb on the political scale. The answer is clear: Now more than ever, Americans must respond to the federal government’s attempt to weaponize its evident disdain for conservative Christians and conservative people who believe in the rule of law. We may not have chosen this fight, but the battle to defend the Constitution and constitutional rights from all enemies, foreign and domestic, has chosen us. This fight will require more than relying on the courts and the Constitution. After all, just last year in Carson v. Makin,  the Supreme Court held that Maine’s “nonsectarian” requirement for otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause. However, while this litigation was pending, proponents of religious discrimination were actively working against them.

Against this challenging backdrop, Christians should recall George Washington’s brilliant observation: “… [T]he freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Accordingly, Christians must engage in this fight and stand their ground despite the cost.

Harry G. Hutchison is a distinguished law professor at Regent University.  His latest book is Requiem for Reality: Critical Race Theocrats and Social Justice Dystopia.

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