I have tried for years to convince people concerned about religious liberty that fascism is the greatest threat to democracy in the United States and across the world.  Events in the United States and the US-Israeli war against Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem prove my point, despite how U.S. politicians, political pundits, corporate media personalities, and religious liberty advocates dismiss my warning. 

I recognize that white religious nationalism has been a toxic part of the U.S. political culture for at least since before the Civil War (yes, that long ago), if not from the very start of European colonialism in North America. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s pronouncement that he is a Christian nationalist might be news to some people who were not paying attention before he became third in the line of succession to the presidency. It wasn’t to me or anyone else who studied his public record. 

Speaker Johnson is not an outlier. Christian nationalists have been holding governmental positions at the local, state, and federal levels for generations. The threat posed by religious nationalists has also been a source of concern for generations. Groups such as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United) have long warned us about it. 

Concern about religious nationalism was an issue faced by John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, during his 1960 presidential campaign. Critics questioned if his political decisions would be directed by papal mandates rather than the U.S. Constitution. Joe Biden’s religious affiliation did not draw as much attention during his successful 2020 campaign or his unsuccessful 2008 campaign for the presidency.

But fascism, meaning a far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposing/dissenting viewpoints, and strong regimentation of social relationships, is a much more significant threat to democracy.  

In the United States, the right-wing authoritarianism of Speaker Johnson and the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress is preventing Congress from passing laws to fund vital governmental operations. It stands in the way of Congress approving Department of Defense recommendations for the nation’s highest military leaders. It threatens funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which pays for nutrition for needy children and families and supports farmers. It threatens efforts to protect the environment. 

Speaker Johnson and the Republican majority will not support legislation about these issues that does not include restrictions on abortion and other reproductive options for women and girls. 

Consequently, the health of women and girls, nutrition of children and families, funding farmers need to produce crops, senior leadership of the military services, and fiscal integrity of the nation are threatened by right-wing, authoritarian nationalists who call themselves “Christian evangelicals,” despite the fact that the majority of the U.S. voting age population— including people who are religious and people who are not religious— staunchly opposed the right-wing position on abortion and reproductive choice. 

That’s more than religious nationalism. It is fascism.    

Measures that ban public schools from teaching students the history of land theft, genocide, and continued mistreatment of indigenous, African American, Latino, and Asian people are examples of fascism. 

Efforts to shut down dissent about abusive and homicidal law enforcement conduct are examples of fascism. 

Efforts by Donald Trump’s followers— including Speaker Johnson—to overturn Biden’s election were blatant demonstrations of fascism. 

Racial gerrymandering of state and federal legislative districts and purges of voting rolls are examples of fascism. 

Israel’s war against Palestinians, now in its 76th year, shows the impact of fascism in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waging a war of extermination in Palestinian territories. But Israeli fascism is not restricted to its apartheid and genocide toward Palestinians. 

Netanyahu’s government curbs civil liberties of Israeli citizens and restricts judicial review of governmental actions. 

That’s fascism.

The bombs and artillery shells that explode in Gaza fall on places of worship, reflection and piety for Christians and Muslims. That is fascism shrouded in ethnocentric— i.e., Zionist Jewish identity— ultranationalism, whether blessed by religious affinity or not. 

Fascism is a clear and present threat to life, freedom, democracy, and peace in the United States, Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the world. I wish the folks who are warning about religious nationalism would recognize that threat before it is too late. 

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