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Nebraska lawmaker slams Christian Nationalists for ignoring Jesus when they vote
"You don't do anything to actually support children who are in need in our state," said Sen. Megan Hunt
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Nebraska State Sen. Megan Hunt used a floor debate yesterday to call out Christian Nationalism and one of the pseudo-patriotic lies that underpin the movement. It was the sort of rhetoric you rarely hear from lawmakers and deserves to be praised for its honesty and courage.
It began during a conversation about an unrelated bill. Nebraska State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh brought up the fact that she received an email from a staffer, during business hours, inviting her to a Christian Bible study, and she felt that was inappropriate. She’s right. Government officials shouldn’t be using the taxpayers’ time to promote their private religious beliefs.
Hunt spoke next and brought up how that email was part of a pattern. She talked about how she tried to eliminate the almost-always Christian invocations that open legislative sessions (to no avail), that the Republican Party has become a vessel for Christian Nationalism, and how even the Supreme Court had previously weighed in on the problems with sectarian invocations (alluding to a case involving her former colleague Ernie Chambers).
When State Sen. Dave Murman, who delivered that morning’s Christian invocation, responded, he said he was merely quoting George Washington, and “if you have something against our first president—what he said—I’m not sure this is the place to say it.” He then moved to strike Hunt’s comments from the record.
Hunt eventually responded with a barnburner of a speech condemning his whole Christian Nationalist attitude, excerpts of which are below:
I know I'm invited to your Bible study. I get the emails, too. I know that would be your dream for me—to join you in the Bible study. Your dream would be for me to be captive in a room with you, with donuts and coffee, so you can tell me what your… Prosperity Gospel, whatever, interpretation of the Bible is, that makes you think that it's right to be wealthy. That makes you think that billionaires are ethical people. That makes you think that you can drive around with a “Choose Life” license plate, but you don't do anything to actually support children who are in need in our state…
Your party is your religion, because nothing you're reading in that Bible Study is coming through in your actions on this floor, through the legislation you bring...
You're not studying the teachings of Jesus Christ. You can be more like Jesus Christ in the votes that you cast, that we know for sure.
Senator Murman, defending the prayer that he did this morning—that was completely denominational… I was amused that his defense of it was, “Well, these are the words of George Washington! So if you don't like George Washington, then I don't know what to tell you. Maybe you're in the wrong place.” This and that.
You know what? I don't like George Washington.
When he died, he had 153 slaves.
And there's a myth that he freed his slaves when he died. He freed one slave who was a Revolutionary War celebrity, basically. He kind of had to free him because he became very famous during the Revolutionary War, this slave, and the other 152 slaves, he gave to his wife Martha. Martha kept the slaves until she died, and they passed them down to their children. So he did not free his slaves. He owned humans. And I don't admire George Washington.
I think that, just because someone is a Founding Father or something, we don't need to venerate them necessarily. We don't need to revere their words. And we don't need to repeat their words in the form of an invocation before we convene every day.
Hunt is right on the ethics and (mostly) right on the facts. Washington was given enslaved people as a child, bought more as an adult, didn’t emancipate them even when it became legal to do so, and willed 153 people to his wife, who freed most of them within a year “largely out of fear” that she would be murdered. He freed one slave upon his death. At best, his legacy with slavery is extremely complicated and any admiration for him ought to come with a giant asterisk.
More to the point, though, there shouldn’t be Christian invocations as a formal part of the legislative session even if those prayers were once uttered by someone like Washington, nor should government resources be used to promote Christianity. That would be obvious to conservative lawmakers if non-Christian colleagues ever acted like they did, but because we live in a country where so few non-Christians can get elected, these problems only ever happen with Christians.
We need more lawmakers like Sen. Hunt calling out that Christian Nationalist thinking at every opportunity. Even if it won’t change her colleagues’ minds, it could at least remind the public that there’s no default religion in the legislature no matter what the invocations might suggest.
This isn’t Hunt’s first time doing this, though. Just last month, after the same Murman proposed a bill making it a “crime for children to attend a drag show,” in the name of protecting kids, Hunt, an atheist, responded with an amendment banning religious indoctrination camps since “there is a well-documented history of indoctrination and sexual abuse perpetrated by religious leaders and clergy people upon children.” She also led a filibuster to temporarily defeat an abortion ban that would have harmed pregnant people in her state.