It’s a rare day that a nonbeliever has anything to thank Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for. Writing for the Daily Beast earlier this week, Rep. Jared Huffman, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, called Alito’s flag-flying a “proud and undeniable embrace of the extreme Christian nationalist movement” that “sounds an alarm for a nation that has been sleepwalking into theocracy.”

Alito was caught displaying the Appeal to Heaven flag outside his New Jersey beach house. Although the flag dates back to the Revolutionary War, it was resurrected from historical obscurity in 2013 by New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) Pastor Dutch Sheets and has since become one of the most visible symbols of the Christian nationalist movement and their “ambitions to steep the country and the government in Christianity.”

The Justice’s ties to the NAR aren’t exactly surprising. He’s been behind a flurry of Supreme Court decisions that have eroded church-state separation. But Alito’s overt and unapologetic allegiance to an extremist ideology that rejects church-state separation and advocates for an authoritarian theocracy ought to be shocking—for all Americans and for atheists in particular.

This kind of “swaggering arrogance” from a Supreme Court Justice is, as Huffman said, “an air raid siren.” And yet most Americans still seem unaware of just how bad things have gotten. Religious extremists aren’t on the fringe anymore, and they’re not just storming the Capitol. Christian nationalists have managed to secure positions of power and immense influence in nearly every state. They’re on school boards, in state legislatures, two steps from the presidency, and even sitting on “the most powerful and least accountable” bench.

Florida is giving us a glimpse of what it looks like when religious extremists take over government agencies. According to official training materials that were obtained via a public records request and published this week, Florida’s Department of Education has trained 4,500 middle and high school teachers to indoctrinate students with Christian nationalist principles.

Teachers were given a $3,000 bonus in exchange for attending a three-day, in-person training or completing a 50-hour online course presented by instructors from private Christian schools, including Hillsdale College, which is on a mission to change “the face of American public education” and rewrite American history.

According to teachers who participated, the message was clear: The United States is a Christian nation, its laws and governing documents come from the Bible, and there is no such thing as the separation of church and state. One teacher described being “gobsmacked” when presenters used the King James Bible to demonstrate their points. It’s worth repeating: This was an official training from the Department of Education.

One slide (pictured below) included a quote from a signatory of the 2009 Manhattan Declaration that called for civil disobedience should the United States fail to adopt Christian views on abortion and same-sex marriage. That same slide included the following speaker notes: “the separation of Church and State did not mean the separation of God and government” and “[all the Founders were] steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Of course, it’s not just Florida. These ideas are metastasizing across the country. At the Republican Party of Texas biennial convention last week, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick told attendees, “They want to take God out of the country, and they want the government to be God.”

Two days later, delegates elected secessionists to lead the party and voted on a platform that included requiring public schools to teach “the Bible, servant leadership, and Christian self-governance” and supporting “the use of chaplains in schools to counsel and give guidance from a traditional biblical perspective based on Judeo-Christian principles.”

Indicted conspiracy theorist, virulent homophobe, and convention-goer Steve Hotze told The Texas Tribune, “People that aren’t in Christ have wicked, evil hearts. We are in a battle, and you have to take a side.” The Tribune said Hotze was pleased, however, “by the party’s growing embrace of his calls for spiritual warfare with ‘demonic, Satanic forces.’”

The party’s 50-page platform document also states “abortion is not healthcare, it is homicide,” criminalizing physicians and patients as murderers in a state where the murder of a child under 15 (which, we must assume, would include a “preborn child”) is punishable by death.

Apart from that, it’s been a great week,

Nick Fish

PS: Don’t miss our upcoming webinarPushing Back Privatization and Advocating For Secular Schools” featuring Alison Gill, Vice President of Legal & Policy, and Melina Cohen, Communications Director. Register today!

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