Last year’s Supreme Court session was a barn burner: Justices imperiled gun safety laws, overturned the right to abortion care, and undermined the EPA’s ability to regulate major sources of carbon emissions. But some decisions that didn’t generate lasting news coverage à la Dobbs or Bruen are rippling out now: Namely, the rulings aimed at rolling back the separation of church and state, laid out in the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Christian nationalists in Texas are already capitalizing on those rulings by backing legislation to bring religion into schools. They’re frequently justifying the action by framing it through the lens of school safety, blaming the establishment clause — and the lack of religious teachings — for campus shootings and rising crime.
“If we had more people following the Ten Commandments, we would solve as many of the issues we are seeing today,” argued Timothy Barton, president of a Christian-conservative group, who was invited to speak during a hearing this session. “It was not so long ago we saw a shooter going to a Christian school in Nashville, and this shooter shot up the Christian school. … If more students were learning things like, ‘don’t kill other people,’ the world would be a far better place.” Leaders of the Christian nationalist movement in the state, The Texas Tribune reported, hope their efforts can serve as a framework for the rest of the country.
Barton and other Christian nationalists are championing bills that would require all Texas public schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom; give public school employees the right to “engage in religious speech or prayer while on duty”; and allow public school districts to hire unlicensed chaplains in place of school counselors. During legislative hearings, lawmakers called the establishment clause a “false doctrine,” per the Tribune. The state Senate has already passed all three measures.
Christian nationalism has existed in the U.S. for generations, Lila Hassan reported for The Trace last year, but the 2020 election proved to be a catalyst for far-right ideologies to seep into mainstream GOP thinking. As Hassan wrote, the connection between Christian nationalism, guns, and the far right has never been clearer. The fight over Texas schools is a potent symbol of this nexus: Legislators defend the “god-given” right to guns in response to mass killings, and blame the First Amendment for violence on school campuses while expanding access to firearms, often against popular opinion.
To be clear, Christian nationalism is not a religion, but a political ideology based on an extremist reading of evangelical morals. Many Christians denounce it. The Reverend Nathan Empsall, executive director and head of campaigns at Faithful America, an online community of Christians organizing for social justice causes, vehemently rejects the notion that guns and religion are tied.
“America is awash in guns and individualism, and that’s certainly not in the Bible or the gospel,” Empsall told Hassan. “They started with the guns and they brought in the religion, not the other way around.”
From Our Team
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What to Know This Week
America is on a record pace for mass killings: The country is averaging about one mass killing per week in 2023, all perpetrated with guns. The deaths represent a fraction of the total number of people who have been murdered this year. [Associated Press]
One person was killed and four others injured in a mass shooting at a medical facility in Midtown Atlanta on Wednesday, marking the third mass shooting in Georgia this week. The suspected shooter was arrested later that day. [The Washington Post/Gun Violence Archive]
The man suspected of killing five of his neighbors in San Jacinto County, Texas, last week was arrested after a dayslong manhunt, officials announced Tuesday night. Survivors questioned why police didn’t respond sooner, saying they made numerous emergency calls after the man threatened them and began shooting. Other county residents noted that police responses to reports of gunfire are often long delayed, if officers respond at all. [The Texas Tribune/NBC/The New York Times]
The Second Amendment Foundation, a small but influential gun rights group, is under investigation by the Washington state Attorney General’s Office for a series of unusual financial transactions with private entities owned by or linked to Alan Gottlieb, the nonprofit’s founder and top executive. [The Wall Street Journal]
The ATF unlawfully overpaid up to $20 million in benefits by misclassifying agents and investigators as law enforcement, according to a U.S. Office of Special Counsel investigation of agency practice from 2016 through 2021. [CNBC]
Black mothers trapped in neighborhoods that they feel are unsafe are “the canaries in the coal mine” for the mental and physical tolls of living with gun violence in America. [The Conversation]
Illinois’ attorney general asked a federal appeals court to block a temporary injunction that ended enforcement of the state’s nascent assault weapons ban. Meanwhile, another bid to block the law has made its way to the Supreme Court. [Chicago Sun-Times]
Gun rights groups filed suit to overturn California’s 10-day gun purchase waiting period, and an appeals court in Sacramento upheld the state’s ban on AR-15-style rifles. [The Sacramento Bee/San Francisco Chronicle]
Workers and parents of patients filed suit against a hospital in suburban Detroit over an active shooter drill that they weren’t told about in advance. “They actually thought they were going to die,” said their attorney. [Detroit Free Press] Context: “These drills communicate the idea that, no matter where you go, you’re at risk of violence. And that definitely can be a traumatizing experience,” one expert told The Trace in 2022.
A new poll shows that more than 80 percent of voters favor addressing gun violence in the U.S. by enacting universal background checks, passing red flag measures, raising the legal age to purchase a firearm to 21, and requiring buyers to pass mental health checks. [Fox News]
A “smart gun” that uses facial recognition and fingerprint verification to authorize its owner — and no one else — to fire is available for preorder. The company behind the technology says it’s the first in the country to develop a smart gun for the market. [NPR]
Carlos Aybar, 30, was a friend to everyone in the Fort Worth, Texas, apartment complex where he was employed as a maintenance worker. Late last month, Aybar was shot and killed in the building, where he also lived with his 4-year-old son. He always had a smile on his face, a tenant told the local ABC affiliate; he was a hard worker, someone neighbors could rely on for help even when he wasn’t on duty. A memorial outside the apartments included messages calling him a hero, as well as flowers and a pack of cigarettes. “Carlos was loved by many,” family members wrote on a fundraising page. “His heart of service and kindness was one in a million.”
Philly Has a Gun Problem. Straw Buying Makes It Worse: “Daniel Lucas was one of those who got caught. Before July 2020, Lucas, an only child from Cobbs Creek, had no criminal record. He was studying speech pathology at the Community College of Philadelphia, and was known on his block as the ‘goody two-shoes,’ friends and family said. … At the time, Lucas said, he was depressed over a recent breakup, angry at his absent adoptive father, with whom he was trying to reconnect, and drinking and smoking marijuana heavily. And the money would help with school. So he agreed.” [The Philadelphia Inquirer]
“I wonder if they had come in those 30 minutes this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe my family would still be alive.”
— Ramiro Guzman, whose family members were killed in the mass shooting in Cleveland, Texas, last weekend, on the delayed police response to victims’ emergency calls, to NBC