When Patrick Crusius went on a shooting spree in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people on Aug. 3, he left little doubt about his motive. A rambling manifesto the 21-year-old left behind condemned the "Hispanic invasion" of Texas and promoted racist ideas. Police believe Crusius, who was killed by law enforcement officers, drove from his home near Dallas to the border city in the hopes of murdering as many Latinos as he could.
Racial hatred would clearly seem to be behind that appalling mass shooting. But Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had a different spin on things, blaming separation of religion and government, and specifically the lack of mandatory prayer in public schools, for the tragedy.
"I look at, on Sunday morning, when most of your viewers right now, half of the country, are getting ready to go to church, and yet tomorrow, we won't let our kids even pray in our schools," Patrick told Fox News during an Aug. 4 interview.
When his comments were criticized, Patrick doubled down: "In terms of prayer in our public schools, we do have a minute of silence for students to do what they wish, but there was a time when students prayed together out loud and students and schools weren't sued or banned from praying at pep rallies and graduations."
Patrick wasn't the only one blaming church-state separation for the horrific events in El Paso and another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that occurred the next day. Commenting on the El Paso shooting, former Arkansas governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Fox, "[L]et's be real clear. The common denominator in all of this is not the particular weapon. It's the hate inside the heart. It's the loss of morality. It's that disconnecting from a God who values all people and who would never let me do that to another person because I would be basically doing it to God and to myself.... [W]e've got a lot of our country that are utterly disconnected from any sense of identity with their Creator and with his love for them and his love for the people that they hate."
Lesser-known figures also jumped on the "blame separation" bandwagon. Ohio state Rep. Candice Keller, a Republican from Butler County, about 30 miles south of Dayton, issued a Facebook post blaming the incidents on, among other things, "the breakdown of the traditional American family (thank you, transgender, homosexual marriage, and drag queen advocates)," professional athletes who fail to stand for the National Anthem, former President Barack Obama and "the culture, which totally ignores the importance of God and the church."
Christian nationalists' tendency to blame enforcement of separation of religion and government in the face of mass shootings and national tragedies is nothing new. Would-be theocrats have been playing that card for decades--and their spiritual ancestors did it hundreds of years ago.
In the curious theology of many fundamentalist Christians, God apparently gets so upset over the lack of compulsory, government-sponsored prayer in public schools and other institutions that he occasionally lashes out with horrifying mass shootings, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, wars and other plagues.
Such claims of a vengeful deity who demands public prayer and government recognition have been around since the founding. In 1793, just two years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the Rev. John M. Mason of New York attacked the secular nature of the U.S. government in a sermon. Mason was livid that the Constitution and its recently minted new amendments contained no references to Jesus Christ or God.
Mason called this "an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate" and predicted divine retribution. God, he said...