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What Do You Think?

I watch football games with the sound always off for commercial breaks. I am not interested in any of the products. But I do see them on the screen. Over the last few weeks of football playoffs, I have seen religious ads. Their theme, the last two lines of the ads, are always, “Jesus gets us. He gets all of us.”

My reaction has been one of thinking that there should be no place for religious ads on television, outside of those stations owned and run by religious groups, and essentially listed as such. But on major broadcast networks, they should not exist, that is my opinion. The Constitution, and the Founders who wrote it, clearly wanted a separation of church and state.

Now, I am well aware that various religious people and organizations are determined to profess their religious beliefs anywhere they can, and are engaged in the endless effort to proselytize their beliefs. Do they have the right to their religion? Essentially yes, unless their religion is contrary to other laws, such as a religion which would proselytize murder or cannibalism. The Constitution mandates the principles of freedom of speech. The questions have always been, how free?, and what if it encroaches on other people; e.g., flying banners on the street condemning other religions?

Clearly, we are at a point in this country, where money can buy you almost anything, including commercial time during a Super Bowl broadcast watched by a hundred million people or so, to try to convert people to the version of Christianity that people who pay for the ad, believe in. In this case, those people are Hobby Lobby, a large company which became famous for the 2014 Supreme Court Case in which the Court decided that they could be considered “people” for the purpose of being able to choose not to provide contraceptive devices under a mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby makes no pretense of not being a ‘Christian company.” People can exercise religion, but can companies? The Supreme Court said that “in some instances,” they could. To me, this runs counter to the Establishment Clause in the Constitution, but the Justices appointed to the Court in the last thirty years by Republicans have shared a religious orthodoxy which protects religious institutions from taxes, and also from having to follow government laws and regulations. We will see much more of this in future Supreme Court decisions.

So Hobby Lobby admits that they wanted to pay for these ads, to proselytize their religion. The ads specifically focus on Jesus. they all end with the same phrases. They want people who see the ads to follow this religion, and believe in the part of the Christian religion the largest part, which professes that Jesus was, and is, God. the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost. Many of the proponents of this religion have tried to conquer and wipe out those groups which do not subscribe to it, in whole, or in parts.

Right now, there is this belief system which has been called “Christian nationalism,” which seems to be a combination of a professed Christian religiosity, with a political belief system which intends that these beliefs be imposed on everyone else, perhaps under penalty of death. Abortion to be wholly banned, contraception as well; Christian religion taught in public schools. It is a frightening assault on freedom, and the imposition of one group’s religious beliefs upon everyone else.

That is the backdrop for those ads, which are benign enough, except they tell everyone to follow Jesus, and that “Jesus gets us. All of us.” How do they know that? They believe it. I personally have no idea whether Jesus existed or not, there are no contemporaneous accounts of his life, and apparently the Gospels were written some ninety years after his described death. Maybe there was a man called Jesus who said he was the Messiah, and was crucified by the Romans. There were several people at that time who claimed to be the Messiah. Maybe the people who wrote the gospels, made much or all of this up, to create a new religion. The predominant monotheistic religion of that time was Judaism, and the writers of he gospels made sure to attack Jews and blame them for the death of the person they said was God. Many horrible things have come out of that.

The Super Bowl ad evoked this response in Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, familiarly known as AOC:”Something tells me that Jesus would ‘not’ spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign.”

This comment on Twitter has gotten 164,000 “likes” so far, and also an outpouring of hate against her from other people. What AOC did (and that is the problem with any place where a few words are meant to stand in for an extended argument), is to express her belief that the ad was a somewhat hidden expression of Christian nationalism, which indeed can be a kind of fascism, as propounded by its advocates in this and other countries. I think that she went too far here, as she is apt to do, and left herself, and unfortunately “the Left” open to charges that they hate Jesus and religion. But she is of course entitled to her opinions, too, freely expressed, and not as a commercial on mainstream television, where is where the Hobby Lobby propounded their beliefs, ones not shared by the majority of the world’s population, those who follow other versions of Christianity, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists. Confucians, and others.

What do you think? Should Hobby Lobby get to spend some of its billions of dollars buying religious ads on TV? If so, are there any constraints? Should the richest people be able to try to convince others to follow their belief system? Should religious institutions be tax-exempt? If so, how do you rationalize that?

I do know that the longest of these ads stated that Jesus did not hate, so people should not hate. That is the trap which AOC may have fallen into, looking like she is against a non-hate message. But her belief is that the people behind these ads are Christian nationalists, and that this the precursor to imposition of their particular religion upon everyone else. And she could well be right, though the ads themselves of course would not say that. For my part, I don’t think these ads should be aired. It is part of the reason that the Founders were strongly against the establishment of any state religion, which has to be carefully guarded against, because it would come by degrees, as is a reasonable fear now.