Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich delivered a speech at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on November 17th. Kasich spoke at length about the threats posed by ISIS and Russia, the need for NATO to be vigilant, and the importance of "rebuilding" the U.S. military to deal with global threats. However, one of Kasich's plans has come under fire as a potential threat to church-state separation.
At the 9:13 mark of this video, Kasich announced that, if elected president, he would consolidate U.S. international broadcasting and diplomacy into a new agency that would promote "Judeo-Christian western values."
"We must be more forceful in the battle of ideas. U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for western values and ideals and effectively countering our opponents' propaganda and disinformation. I will consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core Judeo-Christian western values that we and our friends and allies share, the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. And it should focus on four critical targets: the Middle East, China, Iran, and Russia. Sophisticated strategies will be developed to communicate with each of these target countries."Detractors quickly criticized the plan. Americans United for Separation of Church and State found the plan offensive. In a November 18th post at Wall of Separation, AU communications director Rob Boston pointed out the many flaws of Kasich's proposal.
"It’s blatantly unconstitutional: The creation of an entire federal bureaucracy that does nothing but spread religious concepts in an attempt to proselytize people is an obvious violation of the First Amendment. Unlike many politicians, Kasich is not an attorney -- but that shouldn’t stop him from reading the Constitution.
It’s patronizing: The proposal has the feel of the bad old days of colonialism. Those poor souls in other parts of the world can’t get it together without our help. Their own customs, values and religious traditions are insufficient. They need to adopt ours!
It’s simplistic: It’s a core belief of many Christian conservatives that if people who are acting badly would just embrace “Judeo-Christian” values, everything would be all right. (And guess what, those values always turn out to be more Christian than Judeo – and fundamentalist Christian at that.) Although this view is popular especially in the criminal justice field, no empirical evidence backs up the claim.
It’s kind of creepy: So we’re to have an entire ministry – I’m sorry, department – run by the federal government that exists to change the way people think about religion and persuades them to adopt new beliefs. The agency would do this, we must assume, by disseminating propaganda prepared by someone in government who has been given the authority to prepare an official theology that reflects the state’s political goals. Ew! In all honesty, this sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel."
During an interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd told Kasich that his idea sounded anti-Islamic at the 0:19 mark. (Hat tip to Business Insider.)
TODD: When you say that phrase -- we've got to promote Judeo-Christian values around the world, particularly to the Middle East -- in this atmosphere it sounds, it can come across as a little anti-Islam. Tell me why I'm wrong about that.At the 2:04 mark, Kasich defended his plan, contrasting western values to ISIS values.
KASICH: Chuck, you need to calm down. What I have said is when I look at Voice of America or Radio Liberty, what I've argued is the western ethnic. What is it about? It's about life, it's about equality of women, it's about the freedom of religion. It's not about going to church ... I've invited moderate Muslims into this discussion as well.
"I think it's very important that we all come to grips with the fact that we've got to communicate who we are and while we believe in life, they believe that death somehow gets them to paradise. So not any new agency and not anything about going the church, about who we are as the west that represent freedom and life and progress. That's what we need to communicate to the world."Kasich's plan struck me not only as a misguided white elephant, but as a blatant violation of the First Amendment. First, such a project would be blatantly unconstitutional. Do the words "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." mean anything to Kasich? The United States is a secular republic, and a government agency created to promote "Judeo-Christian values" would have no place in such a system.
Second, Kasich's plan might privilege "Judeo-Christian" contributions to society over the contributions of non-Jews and non-Christians. Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians, atheists, agnostics, and "nones" have enriched the western world and shaped its values. Why should their contributions be ignored in favor of a "Judeo-Christian" vision?
Third, the language that Kasich uses to describe his project is amorphous. In reality, "western" values are not monolithic, but rather run a wide gamut of wildly divergent traditions. In reality, "Judeo-Christian" values are not monolithic, but rather encompass a wide spectrum of divergent ideas. Orthodox Judaism does not looks like Reform Judaism, which does not look like Roman Catholicism, which does not look like Quaker belief. To boot, Judaism and Christianity are not the same thing, so it makes little sense to lump them together. Kasich claims that his new agency would support freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association, but he forgets that these are enlightenment values, not religious ones. If Kasich wants to advocate for freedom and gender equality around the world, why can't he do so using the language of human rights, rather than language about "western" values or "Judeo-Christian" beliefs?
What are we to make of Kasich's plan? Has he lumped human rights together with "Judeo-Christian values" in a well-meaning but misguided plan to combat extremism? Is he merely pandering to Religious Right voters? Whatever his intentions, his plans for an agency with a "Judeo-Christian" mission should concern us.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Mediaite: Kasich Explains Plan for Judeo-Christian Department
Danthropology: Presidential Hopeful Kasich Proposes New Judeo-Christian Branch of the U.S. Government
Esquire: John Kasich Goes Full Jesus