A teacher once told our class that the hand of tyranny reached every nation at some point, except ours. At that time, our Constitution had always held and preserved our democracy more times than once, even when we had rulers with imperialistic tendencies like Richard Nixon. This was long before the Trump era. In fact, right before the midterms I feared that our democracy, the rule of law, and peaceful transitions would become things of the past. The Constitution is only as good as the leaders charged with protecting it and the people holding them accountable. Thankfully, our democracy held—this time.
America has prided itself on its commitment to democracy, and the fact that although tyranny has taken hold of every other industrialized nation at one point or another, we have held firm with the Constitution. However, the truth is that we aren’t so different from any other nation. Today, one of the two major parties has devolved into an authoritarian-loving, anti-democratic mob hellbent on replacing our government with Christian nationalism. Their hatred of Islam is a bit ironic since their movement’s ultimate goal is to follow the same trajectory to become a religious theocracy like other nations in the Middle East and Africa.
RELATED STORY: Christian nationalism is the greatest danger to America, and it now rules at the Supreme Court
The fringe extreme ideology within the current Republican party is Christian nationalism, and sadly, it has gained a legal foothold in our country's highest court. Christian nationalism believes in bringing about the Kingdom of God through institutionalizing biblical principles as law. The adherents want to declare the United States a Christian nation, and want their interpretation of Christian doctrine to become law.
RELATED STORY: Roberts, justices refuse to halt the Supreme Court’s slide into illegitimacy
They also have a long history of manipulating biblical doctrine to reinforce the patriarchy. They believe that men should be prioritized, and women, the “lesser vessel,” must submit to male authority. It's one of the reasons Christian nationalists have been completely silent in the face of widespread sexual harassment, abuse, and violence against women. In fact, the Republican candidates who run on this platform have engaged in domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and other sexual crimes—none of which have apparently been disqualifying.
Although very few Americans support this ideology, they have grown in power within the broken GOP, and have also become much more militant, as we witnessed with the failed insurrection of Jan. 6. Worst of all is the fact that Christian nationalism is now the leading doctrine of this current Supreme Court. The current makeup has been the culmination of decades of work by the religious right.
Republican leaders no longer have any desire to have jurists who build consensus and thus legitimacy to the Supreme Court, but want the most ideologically right-wing partisans they can find. Fueled by a quarter billion dollars in “dark money” contributions, conservative nonprofits promoted a pool of extremist judges that they knew could be relied on to enact a radical social agenda that could never be achieved legislatively.
In the current majority, we have people like Amy Coney Barrett, who is literally in a cult and has demonstrated no qualms about putting her personal beliefs above the law. Samuel Alito has embraced his inner zealot and made it his quest to strip away rights granted by the progressive movements of the ’60s and ’70s. And then there’s the most conservative, Clarence Thomas, whose mortifying ideas on race, sex, voting, and violence have influenced decisions that have impacted our nation.
Just this past year, the conservative majority ruled that states can no longer protect their citizens from gun violence and completely gutted the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies, preventing them from setting rules and regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Throwing out the barrier between church and state, school districts are now legally obligated to allow school employees to coerce religious expression from students at official school functions.
Yet their most impactful court ruling, with a margin of one right-wing judge, overturned a half-century of women’s health rights. As a result, doctors won’t legally be able to save a woman’s life if she needs an abortion, and one woman already almost died. This is only the beginning.
RELATED STORY: Trump judge could ban drug used for medication abortion this week
Even after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which happened despite overwhelming public support for abortion rights, the court signaled they weren’t finished. Thomas argued in a concurring opinion released in June that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” its past rulings establishing the right to contraception access and same-sex relationships.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.” —Justice Sonia Sotomayor
In what will be an equally impactful decision, SCOTUS will rule in Moore v. Harper, a case where North Carolina Republicans are asking the court to embrace the right-wing fringe “independent legislature” claim. It was argued Dec. 7, 2022, and while a ruling could come at any time, it could also get thrown out. This will allow GOP state legislatures to gerrymander their states with impunity, with no input from the justice system, the state constitution, the governor, or the people. This will ensure a permanent GOP majority, which has been the goal of these conservative justices all along.
There are plenty of examples of what happens when religious fundamentalists overtake a nation. It’s never been a good thing. In the 1950s and ’60s, Afghanistan had a very progressive culture until it fell under the grip of Islamist extremists. Although Islamic Sharia Law was imposed on everyone, women have suffered the most. Women’s and girls’ health and education are virtually nonexistent. Recently, the Taliban said women could not be treated by male doctors, which is problematic because they also forbid female doctors. They have curtailed freedom of movement for women, making them virtual prisoners in their homes. It wasn’t always this way.
Another religious theocracy, Sudan, is one of the worst nations for women’s rights. Domestic abuse, child marriage, and marital rape are allowed, and sexual violence is common and often goes unpunished.
I had to research to find a nation overtaken by Christian theocracy, but there was only one modern example: Ireland. After all but the six northern provinces were freed from Great Britain in 1922, the church became the provider of all Irish services. Every public, civic, and social institution was in thrall to the Roman Catholic Church, which exercised extreme control of Irish society for the following decades. The church banned books, abortion, and contraception as well. Worse, the Emerald Isle had literal slave labor camps run by nuns for children born out of wedlock and generations of young girls thought to be unfit for Irish society.
Girls who had become pregnant, even from rape, girls who were illegitimate, or orphaned, or just plain simple-minded, girls who were too pretty and therefore in "moral danger" all ran the risk of being locked up and put to work, without pay, in profit-making, convent laundries, to "wash away their sins."
They were completely cut off from their families, and many lost touch with them forever.
Stripped of their identities, the girls were given numbers instead of names. They were forbidden to speak, except to pray. If they broke any rule or tried to escape, the nuns beat them over the head with heavy iron keys, put them into solitary confinement or shipped them off to a mental hospital.
Ireland during this time period was akin to a “Catholic North Korea,” complete with suffering, violence, and death. A report by Irish historian Catherine Corless led to the excavation of an unmarked mass grave of one home where more than 800 children had died.
There were never any reparations made from the Irish Catholic Church, or even an apology. Thankfully, due to what has been referred to as the “Quiet Revolution,” a 1972 amendment passed with overwhelming public support requiring Ireland to have a secular constitution. Unfortunately, it would be several more decades until religious influence over laws, education, and state businesses would diminish.
Probably the nation most aligned with America’s religious right is, ironically, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and Iran’s Guardian Council are controlled by right-wing religious extremists, and both have the same mission: to impose religious doctrine upon the nation.
Iranian author Ari Honarvar wrote how her country could have let her rights be taken from her by religious theocrats who clearly wanted to oppress women. Honarvar responds that it happened very quickly, and has noticed an eerie familiarity to what we are now facing in this country.
Before the revolution in the 1970s, Iran's population enjoyed a large degree of cultural freedom. Women were encouraged to attend school, and most chose to wear Western-style clothes, including jeans, skirts, and short sleeves. They worked alongside men. They enjoyed sporting events. They lived a life free of restrictions.
Yet all of this changed when Ruhollah Khomeini took power. He had a fanatical religious cult that believed he was anointed by God to lead. Although he promised a democratic political system if he returned to power, he instead created an Islamic theocracy. The very first thing he did was to immediately strip rights away from women. Ethnic and religious minorities were instantly subjected to discrimination and violence. The first fatwa that was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini was against women participating in his new society.
Women who sat with men were deemed “prostitutes.” They could no longer work, divorce, or even choose their own spouse. They had to be veiled at all times or suffer torture. Khomeini ordered the first female Minister of Education from the Shah’s regime killed. Any opposition was dealt with swiftly and harshly: beatings, rape, starvation, burning, and murder. Khomeini himself provided justification with his “religious” edicts. The savagery of the oppression hasn’t abated in the 33 years since Khomeini's death. Once authoritarianism takes hold, terror is the only way to remain in power.
It’s never a good sign when men make rules on what women can wear. Women in this country aren’t required to wear veils, but Republican lawmakers have no problem controlling the outfits of their female colleagues. Legislatures in Missouri and Florida have required female politicians and staffers to dress modestly and not bare their shoulders. Both the Florida and Missouri state houses have had their fair share of sex scandals, but it now appears it's on the women to dress down as opposed to simply having the men learn how to act professionally around women.
RELATED STORY: Women with bare arms scare the devil out of Missouri Republicans, leading to dress code legislation
However, that’s small compared to the religious sect that now sits on our high court. SCOTUS ruled last year that women and pregnant people in America can no longer have total autonomy over their own bodies.
Laws banning abortion with no exception for rape and incest are spreading across states controlled by the GOP. Raped children as young as 10 years old are now being told they need to be forced to have children—something so horrible and yet has been defended by multiple GOP politicians. I fear as time moves on, the outrage will continue to diminish as the other side prepares stricter and more draconian measures to suppress women.
It’s going to fall to our political leaders to make reform to the Supreme Court their top priority. We aren’t helpless to curb the unchecked power the conservative majority is wielding. There’s a number of things we can do:
Departmentalism: This is defined as the theory that each branch of government-–the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary—all have equal and independent authority to interpret the Constitution. Having the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of political stalemates and even supervising the actions of the other branches might have been acceptable when everyone agreed the high court was nonpartisan. That is clearly no longer the case.
Democratizing: Congress can require federal statutes to have unanimous or nearly unanimous decisions from the justices involved. Barring an unusually lopsided bench, the Supreme Court would remain able to step in in cases of uncontroversial constitutional violation. In more closely contested cases, though, it would fall upon members of Congress and the president to decide what the Constitution permits. This would return to the Thayerian “clear error” standard for judicial review. James Bradley Thayer, a 19th-century lawyer, argued that an act of Congress should never be struck down unless the constitutional violation “is so clear as to leave no room for reasonable doubt.” This principle was once the bedrock of constitutional understanding, but has been ignored by activist judges in recent times.
Expand the court. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to change the size of the Supreme Court. Congress has used that authority six times before. To restore balance and integrity to a broken institution, Congress must expand the Supreme Court by four or more seats.
The Supreme Court isn’t just broken, it’s dangerous. We cannot allow an American Guardian Council to rule like a theocracy. We’ve seen the results, and it isn’t pretty. If we don’t take drastic steps to stop them soon, it might be too late.