The Wisconsin Assembly’s “National Bible Week” resolution may seem benign to many. It’s not.
Resolutions like this one are often part of an explicit Christian nationalist campaign to rewrite American history and the American identity. One such crusade, Project Blitz, seeks to redefine patriotism — so that to be an American is to be a Christian and to be a Christian is to be an American. Its goal is to reshape our national identity and then to rewrite the law accordingly. Put more simply, Project Blitz seeks to favor Christians and relegate everyone else to second-class status. The bible week resolution resembles a mashup of two resolutions in the Project Blitz handbook: one recognizes “Christian Heritage Week” and another acknowledges the “importance of the Bible in history” (as if there’s any danger that Americans will forget about Christianity or the Bible).
Though “National Bible Week” has that Project Blitz flavor, it’s actually part of an older Christian nationalist push. Historically, Christian nationalists have taken advantage of times of national crisis and fear to advance their agenda. “In God We Trust” was first added to coins during the Civil War. During the Red Scare, Christian nationalists divided “one nation, indivisible” with their god in 1954 and made trusting their god the national motto two years later. They also inaugurated the National Prayer Breakfast and the National Day of Prayer, and built a prayer room in the U.S. Capitol during this anti-communist hysteria.
In that fear-ridden climate, an intrepid Cap Times reporter, John Hunter, conducted a social experiment. In 1951, he asked people to sign a petition that included excerpts from the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Only one person out of 112 agreed to sign the petition. They were too afraid. Christian nationalists have always preyed on fear. Christian nationalists push the boundaries of what is right and constitutional at times when Americans are afraid to challenge politicians abusing a public office to promote their personal religion.
National Bible Week has its roots in another such fearful moment: Dec. 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked. To stand up and challenge any resolution in the wake of such an attack, and when the U.S. was on the brink of war, would have been seen as unpatriotic.
But that understanding of patriotism is precisely backward, because the United States invented the separation of state and church. It’s an American original. The idea was born in the Enlightenment, but it was first implemented in the American Experiment. This is one of our country’s unique contributions to humanity. Not only that, it guarantees that other foundational American value: religious freedom. There is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion.
The "National Bible Week" resolution, ceremonial though it may be, is wrong. It uses the machinery of the state to impose Christian nationalism on Wisconsin. America has no national bible other than the Constitution, and that Constitution happens to be godless. National Bible Week is fundamentally un-American.
Andrew L. Seidel is an attorney and author. He is the director of strategic response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation. His first book, "The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American," hit shelves in May and was burned by a Tennessee preacher. Seidel also writes for Slate, ThinkProgress, Religion News Service, Rewire News and elsewhere. Follow him on social media: @AndrewLSeidel.
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