Political Animal


November 20, 2011 10:00 AM Gingrich’s ‘nightmare’

By Steve Benen

Following up on the last item, on the religious right’s “Thanksgiving Family Forum” in Iowa for Republican presidential candidates, Igor Volsky flagged the line from the event that struck me as the most important.

The quote came from Newt Gingrich, who condemned the very idea of a secular state. “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” the thrice-married, serial adulterer said. “Because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.”

The disgraced former House Speaker’s reference to 1963 was apparently a reference to the Abington Sch. Dist. v. Schempp Supreme Court case. It was an interesting dispute: the justices considered whether public officials could promote Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer over public school intercoms. Eight of the nine justices backed the separation of church and state — it wasn’t the job of the state or state schools to push religion onto children.

The underlying legal principle was simple: religious instruction should be left to families, religious leaders, houses of worship, and the conscience of the individual — not the government. In Newt Gingrich’s mind, the court was not only wrong to rule this way, but the very idea of taking children’s religious lessons out of the government’s hands represents an example of “driving God out of public life.”

That’s pretty twisted.

Also note, Gingrich doesn’t have to like it, but we haven’t “attempted to create a secular country”; the secular country was created more than two centuries ago. Our entire system of government is based on a secular Constitution that guarantees a separation of church and state.

I’m curious, though, what Gingrich would prefer we replace our “secular country” with, exactly. There are some countries that endorse Gingrich’s worldview and intermix God and government — Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind — but they’re generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

Indeed, when it comes to American values, one might even say a move towards a theocratic system is a “nightmare.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • DRF on November 20, 2011 10:09 AM:

    The demagoguery and dishonesty in these and other statements made by Gingrich are just appalling. This guy shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Washington, D.C., let alone in the White House.

  • T-Rex on November 20, 2011 10:09 AM:

    The operative quote from Newt Gingrich is what he said to his soon-to-be-second-ex wife. "They need to hear me say it, they don't care if I live it."

    Of course, as long as he claims to be some kind of a Christian he can always repent and get his sins washed away. He used to be a Baptist, now he's a Catholic of convenience, because Callista would spread 'em for a married man, but wouldn't marry a Protestant if he couldn't get his previous marriage annulled through the church. That's the sum total of Newt's family values.

  • mellowjohn on November 20, 2011 10:12 AM:

    not only are iran, saudi arabia, and afghanistan theocracies, but they are also highly authoritarian and stratified.
    perfect for today's republican party.

  • millsapian87 on November 20, 2011 10:13 AM:

    Part of the Great Seal of the United States (1782?) includes the phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" which most translate as "New Order for the Ages"--but "seclorum" may also mean "secular" (reference).

    "New Secular Order".

  • c u n d gulag on November 20, 2011 10:18 AM:

    T-Rex kind of stole my thunder but, I'll ask it anyway:

    'Ok then, Newt, when they're broadcasting, which flavor of Christianity would you mandate the children to listen to? Catholic? Baptist? Methodist? Lutheran? Eastern Orthodox? I know Mormon's out! Other?"

    And Newt doesn't really believe in jack-shit, except that which further fattens Newt's wallet.

  • martin on November 20, 2011 10:29 AM:

    Back when I used to argue this stuff for the ACLU, we had a simple line :The government can't tell you when, where or how to pray.

    Simple enough for even Gingrich to understand.

    More frightening and amusing was when Luntz said the presidential oath of office ended with "So Help Me God," and then asked the contestants to elaborate on what they would be feeling when they took the oath. Not a single one of the "strict" constitutionalist up there pointed out to Luntz, or the audience, that the Constitutional oath of office doesn't mention God at all. Damn founding fathers.

  • g on November 20, 2011 10:46 AM:

    I always have to wonder why people who claim to be such devoted and disciplined Christians think their faith is so fragile it won't survive without government sanction.

  • trnc on November 20, 2011 10:50 AM:

    There's no point in analyzing Gingrich or trying to correct him on this kind of stuff. He's just pandering.

  • tony blck on November 20, 2011 10:52 AM:

    cut him some slack. we deserve a GOP ticket with him at the top.

  • navamske on November 20, 2011 11:01 AM:


    "Back when I used to argue this stuff for the ACLU, we had a simple line: The government can't tell you when, where or how to pray."

    "Whether" should be in there too, I think.

  • bert on November 20, 2011 11:06 AM:

    "they’re generally not countries the United States tries to emulate"

    Earlier this year Gingrich's line was that Muslims should be allowed to build mosques in New York when Saudi Arabia permitted the building of churches. So the role of religion in Saudi is precisely the yardstick he uses for the US.

  • David Martin on November 20, 2011 11:08 AM:

    "Civic religion" seems to have peaked in the 1950s, with Billy Graham, more-or-less mandatory school prayer (daily Lord's Prayer in my 4th and 5th grade public school), and conspicuous chaplains and such with backing from the big Protestant denominations, which were generally not as conservative as the sort of evangelicalism that's become dominant more recently.

    I suppose that school prayers and Bible-reading (in a conservative evangelical straitjacket) would uncontroversial in some southern states, but pseudohistorian David Barton's vision of a pan-denominational Christian nation just won't work in most places.

  • martin on November 20, 2011 11:12 AM:

    navamske: You're right, but works better with the rule of threes;>

  • Anonymous on November 20, 2011 11:18 AM:

    This is hilarious, really. Imagine the horrified shrieking and gnashing of teeth if the Obama administration directed schools to read bible passages over the intercoms? Because, of course, they would be the wrong passages.

    Who does Newt propose be the arbiter of religious morality to be imposed?

    Left up to each school district? Each town? Each state? How exactly would this work?

    It wouldn't. He's an idiot.

  • Hedda Peraz on November 20, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Things were very, very different, when Man peacefully coexisted with dinosaurs.

  • Daniel Kim on November 20, 2011 12:19 PM:

    So, under president Gingrich (ouch, my fingers ache just writing that), we will all have to become Catholic? Maybe it should be left as an option to the several states instead, where each statehouse will, as one of their first actions after convening, decide what religious denomination will be practiced in that state.

    If you're just passing through, though, you'll be OK with your own religion. There won't have to be billboards saying "Welcome to Nebraska! Don't let the sun set on your Catholic Ass!

    Since corporations are people, then they should also be practicing the religion of the state in which they are headquartered. This could then lead to the 'Wilmington, DE Effect', in which some particular state could attract corporate headquarters to relocate there because of their particularly business-friendly religious regulation (perhaps by adopting an official religion that does not require a tithe, or something).

  • SYSPROG on November 20, 2011 12:29 PM:

    LIARS!!! These nimrods (NONE OF THEM) do not have a moral core no matter how MUCH they want to pretend and/or CRY. Small government, state's rights, etc. EXCEPT for all these cultural issues that we want to ram down the country's throat...oh and by the way if I'm WRONG??? I'll ask God's forgiveness...

  • jcricket on November 20, 2011 12:36 PM:

    Newt's outlandish statement is meant to do one thing, and one thing only: To distract everyone from his Fanny Mae/Freddy /Mac lobbying history.

    I say we should continue to explore his lobbying career in spite of his efforts.

    Just how much of a player was he in the run up to one of the biggest financial meltdowns in history, anyway??

  • Skip on November 20, 2011 12:38 PM:

    Newt is a modern day representative of the Biblical Scribes and Pharisees, who lived by the letter of the law but not by the spirit.

    Jesus died on a cross for Gingrich to feign piety for the couple hours he is in church, after which Jesus said "go and sin some more".

    Or was that "go and sin no more..." Anyway, Newt is fortunate in that there is no honest religious accountability here on Earth. And what is the point of religion at all if it shows no real change in the spirits of those who wish to represent millions of people.

    "For Gingrich so loved the world, that he gave up his latest begotten mistress..."

  • Roddy McCorley on November 20, 2011 12:55 PM:

    Luckily, our founders had a better grasp of history than Newtie. They were aware of a period in the history of the mother country where, within the space of a decade, one could be persecuted for not being a Catholic, and then persecuted for being a Catholic.

    Here's another thing to consider. The Christianity that our current crop of hacks would enshrine as the state religion did not exist at the time of the founders. It is a late 19th century innovation - or aberration, if you'd rather. (I'd rather.) At the time of the founding of this republic, there was no conflict between enlightenment values and religious faith.

  • Rich on November 20, 2011 4:33 PM:

    Just about any country with a nationalized religion has seen it strangle the rule of law (much of the Arab Middle east, and increasingly, Israel) or has seen religion wither and fade into irrelevance (UK & most of Western Europe). Catholicism is rapidly losing its special relationship with government in Ireland, which was slipping even before various clerical scandals came to light) and institutional Buddhism is struggling in places like Thailand for similar reasons. Pandering to fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant won't change this. the Protestant tradition seems to both encourage and discourage this sort of thing. It's shame that the discouraging mode seems increasingly impotent and only secular folk and non-Christian religious minorities can really fill the breach.

  • Speed on November 20, 2011 4:59 PM:

    The more a public figure talks about religion and morality, the more they are trying to hide their own depravity. J. Edgar Hoover is a prime example.

  • John in TX on November 20, 2011 5:53 PM:

    The quote came from Newt Gingrich, who condemned the very idea of a secular state. "A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn't be surprised at all the problems we have," the thrice-married, serial adulterer said.

    Thank you. Any quote about any subject from the depraved Gingrich should include that description. Gingrich is, as Keith Olbermann once memorably described Cheney, "a living, breathing manifestation of corruption and scandal." If our media weren't so hopelessly useless, the pompous, lying jackass would have been thrown out of public life years ago.

  • Bob M on November 20, 2011 7:59 PM:

    "Since corporations are people, then they should also be practicing the religion of the state in which they are headquartered."

    Love it, Daniel.

  • gottacook on November 20, 2011 8:21 PM:

    This reminds me of Bob Dole's last stand in the 1988 Republican primaries - I was living in the Midwest at the time and saw him on TV news the night before the Illinois primary (which he lost, withdrawing from the race son after). Desperately pandering to some crowd, Dole was saying "Prayer in the schools! Prayer in the schools!" This is just their default position; nothing new to see here.

  • buckyblue on November 20, 2011 9:39 PM:

    It was probably Engel v. Vitale that ended prayer in public schools. 1963 as well. Newt bloviating about how immoral our country is is truly beyond the pale.

  • ComradeAnon on November 21, 2011 10:17 AM:

    I wonder how the type of religious state that the newt wants would handle a lying, unethical, serial adulterer ? Burn him at the stake, dunk him or take him out in the country and...