Religious conservatives are gleefully sharing a ridiculous statement made by Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri on the floor of the Senate Tuesday complaining about the Supreme Court’s ruling that federal civil rights law protects people from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Oh hell yes!” tweeted conservative Christian writer Rod Dreher, who said Hawley’s speech “will be remembered as a landmark in American conservatism.”
“A must read,” wrote the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson. Public Discourse, a journal published by the right-wing Witherspoon Institute and edited by Anderson, published the text of Hawley’s remarks.
Hawley’s statement complained snarkily that the Supreme Court ruling was “truly a historic piece of legislation,” expressing the views of conservatives and the dissenting justices that the court was overstepping its role in interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—even though two of the conservative justices signed on and Trump nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.
But that right-wing talking point isn’t what generated so much enthusiasm from the religious right. It was Hawley’s assertion that for far too long, religious conservatives have been told by the Republican establishment to shut up. And Hawley’s not going to take it anymore!
“So, I would just say, it’s not time for religious conservatives to shut up,” he said. “No, we’ve done that for too long. No, it’s time for religious conservatives to stand up and to speak out.”
Ha, ha, ha, HA, Sen. Hawley! Good one!
No, Hawley was not joking. He claimed that religious conservatives have been expected to keep their mouth shut about their priorities and go along with the Republican establishment, “and, in return, the establishment will put some judges on the bench who supposedly will protect your constitutional rights to freedom of worship, to freedom of exercise.”
“That’s what we’ve been told for years now,” Hawley said. He continued:
We were told that we’re supposed to shut up while the party establishment focuses more on cutting taxes and handing out favors for corporations, multinational corporations who don’t share our values, who will not stand up for American principles, who were only too happy to ship American jobs overseas. But we’re supposed to say nothing about that. We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut because maybe we’ll get a judge out of the deal. That was the implicit bargain.
As Right Wing Watch readers know, it is impossible to take seriously the idea that religious conservatives have somehow been forced into silence by the Republican establishment.
In fact, as the religious right completed its relentless takeover of the Republican Party over the past few decades, the religious right became the very establishment Hawley now claims is failing religious conservatives. Republican candidates and elected officials flock in droves to religious-right political gatherings like the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit and Ralph Reed’s Road to Majority.
Religious–right activists have dominated the Republican Party’s platform committee and made their agenda the official agenda of the GOP.
Pro-choice Republicans were virtually driven from the party as religious-right anti-choice activists wrote their demands into the party platform and pushed ever more radical restrictions on legal access to abortion.
A major part of Donald Trump’s campaign strategy—including his selection of Mike Pence as his running mate—was to promise the religious right whatever they wanted should they help him win office. And once Trump got into power with the overwhelming support of Christian conservatives, he made good on his promise, turning the executive branch, especially the Department of Health and Human Services, over to religious–right activists who have used their power to write the conservative Christian wish list into federal policy.
Hawley’s speech didn’t focus only on the religious right’s culture war issues. He put forth an absurd new myth—that religious conservatives have somehow been silently and reluctantly acquiescing to right-wing economic policies that enrich the few at the expense of the many in their desperation to get a few judges who will protect their religious freedom.
In fact, the opposite is true: The religious-right political movement has worked hard to give theological and biblical justifications for right-wing economic policies. Influential GOP activist and Christian nationalist “historian” David Barton has been telling conservative Christians for years that the Bible opposes progressive taxation and the minimum wage. Religious-right leaders influenced by Christian Reconstructionist philosophy argue that the federal government has no constitutionally or biblically legitimate role in providing education or health care or addressing the needs of the poor. Members of Congress defended cuts to nutrition programs by quoting a Bible verse saying that people who don’t work don’t get to eat.
Religious conservatives were not biting their tongues but leading cheers for the massive tax cuts passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Trump—tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the richest Americans and most powerful corporations while massively increasing the kind of deficit spending that religious conservatives portrayed as sinful when Barack Obama was president.
In fact, the long-term Republican Party effort to funnel ever more money to the already rich and powerful is in some ways a political reflection of the kind of prosperity gospel hucksterism of evangelists like White House aide Paula White, who portray wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and increase their own wealth by promising spiritual and financial rewards for people who send them money.
And far from being asked to be content with an occasional “judge out of the deal,” religious-right leaders have been positively gleeful about the right-wing judges that Trump and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republicans have been filling the courts with. They gloat about “transforming” the judiciary to not only do away with rulings on abortion and marriage equality but also to dismantle the social safety net created by New Deal and Great Society programs.
Hawley has every right to be upset that the Supreme Court didn’t deny legal protections to LGBTQ workers as religious conservatives expected it to.
He has the right to appeal to the victimization narrative and persecution complex that religious conservatives have used for years to scare their constituents into voting for candidates, including Trump. And the ambitious senator has the right to try to position himself as a champion for the assertive Christian nationalist wing of the Republican Party—and to portray himself as some kind of populist.
But he can’t expect the rest of us to take him seriously when he pretends that the religious right has not been a full partner in the Republican Party’s destructive and regressive economic agenda.