Doug Jager, a band student of Native-American ancestry, complained about the Christian prayers at his Georgia public school’s football games. Rather than address his concerns, the school lectured him on Christianity and proposed an alternative that appeared neutral yet would result in the continuation of the Christian prayers. In striking down the school’s proposal, Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. understood some of the ramifications of state-sponsored Christianity.
Despite Supreme Court rulings limiting Christian invocations at public-school events, government-sponsored Christian prayers and Christian symbols remain plentiful in the United States. This proliferation of government-sponsored Christianity around the country both reflects and strengthens Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalism maintains that the United States is and should be a Christian nation, and Christian nationalism’s defining characteristic is the belief that religious identity and national identity overlap completely. Christian nationalism necessarily implies a hierarchy based on religion, with Christian insiders who are true Americans and non-Christian outsiders who are not. Moreover, studies show that those with strong identification with Christian nationalism have more hostile attitudes towards out-groups, religious and otherwise. That hostility paves the way for hostile public policy. Consequently, Christian nationalism does not simply lead to symbolic exclusion from the community and nation; it may lead to actual exclusion.
Thus, as the sociological evidence establishes, the potential harms of government-sponsored Christianity are not just offense but also discriminatory attitudes and discriminatory policies. The insight embedded in Establishment Clause doctrine that the government should not favor one religion over others is validated by contemporary social science. As a result, instead of eviscerating separation of church and state, the Establishment Clause ought to be recognized as more important than ever.
Caroline Mala Corbin, The Supreme Court's Facilitation of White Christian Nationalism, 71 Ala. L. Rev. 833 (2020).