Pay particular attention to Indiana congressman Mike Pence's revealing declaration that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal bill prohibiting workplace discrimination against gay people "wages war on freedom of religion in the workplace." If religious beliefs legitimized workplace discrimination, as Pence advises, then Title Vll of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would be unconstitutional at least as applied to people with religious compunctions against hiring women or members of particular racial or religious groups: If you believe that God did not intend women to hold traditionally male jobs, for example, or if you simply don't like Mormons, then, in Pence's view of religious freedom, you have a constitutional defense to employment discrimination claims by female or Mormon job applicants. But I bet that Pence would hesitate to defend a constitutional right to discriminate categorically against women or Mormons in the workplace; and if I'm right, it means he recognizes religious biases as defenses to discrimination claims as long as they're biases he shares. Pence's position on ENDA demonstrates the confident, theocratic approach to governing enabled by the Tea Party's electoral successes.
Of course, Pence and Shimkus, among others, are hardly the first theocrats to land in office. There's nothing new about the religious right's drive for political power, which helped sweep Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980, when liberal stalwarts were swept out of the Senate. What does seem new is the increased dominance of the Republican Party by sectarian religious extremists and their acquisition of power during a prolonged economic crisis and even longer war -- a period marked by national pessimism, fear of terror, and a bipartisan assault on civil liberty unprecedented in its scope (thanks to technology) if not its intentions. In other words, what's worrisome is our vulnerability, susceptibility to demagoguery, and diminishing margin of error. We don't have time for the unexamined certitudes of religious zealotry.
If only Tea Partiers and their legislative surrogates would take seriously the Constitution and the founding fathers they so frequently invoke. Then they'd respect the First Amendment's prohibition on government-established religion, which codified the Founder's belief in a secular, civil government that accommodates diverse religious practices and beliefs. They'd understand that the Establishment clause doesn't merely bar the federal government from requiring us to attend a federal church; it bars Congress from turning sectarian religious beliefs into law (unless they coincide with practically universal moral codes, like prohibitions on murder.) "People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin once said (to appropriate acclaim.) It's an accurate statement of law and constitutional ideals, but, sad to say, an increasingly aspirational description of political practice.