Monday, February 7, 2022
This is the second article in our three-part series, “The Christian Dominionist War on Abortion.” You can read Part I here.
On the morning of Dec. 1, 2021, a mostly white group of Christians with red “LIFE” duct tape over their mouths stood praying silently at the gate surrounding the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. One woman danced, her clothes billowing around her as she twirled while brandishing a pink flag with the name “JESUS” emblazoned across it. Another demonstrator carried a white, hand-painted Appeal to Heaven flag up and down the street in front of Mississippi’s last abortion clinic.
Nearly 1,000 miles to the northeast, lawyers for the clinic argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade and strike down Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart focused on secular, non-religious arguments as he asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to make their own decisions about regulating abortion.
The Alliance Defending Freedom hosted a panel following the hearing, however, where Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch dispensed with any notion that her office saw the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, as a secular issue.
“First of all, to God be the glory,” she told the Christian legal organization in Washington, D.C., that evening. “What an incredible day for all of us. … We did this because God selected this case, he was ready, the justices were ready to hear what we were going to be talking about and look at it from a holistic perspective.”
Fitch believed Stewart and her team had convinced a majority of the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would allow states to ban abortion access even before a fetus was viable outside the womb. If she is right, the court will likely render that decision by the end of June—and former President Donald Trump will have prepared the way by installing justices sympathetic to the anti-abortion cause.
‘A Different Set Of People’
“Trump comes in and he has the support of normal evangelical organizations like Family Research Council, but what he picks is kind of this whole interesting list of pentecostals that I used to call the D-list. He made them the A-list,” said Dr. Anthea Butler, a University of Pennsylvania professor of religion and Africana studies who is the author of “Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America.”
It was “a different set of people” from the traditional cast of white, male evangelical figures who normally rally around Republican presidents, she told the Mississippi Free Press on Jan. 26, 2022.
Trump’s new A-list included a significant number of wealthy, eccentric pentecostal TV preachers and Christian dominionists from the New Apostolic Reformation movement. They teach that Christians are tasked with seizing the reins of earthly power through “spiritual warfare” in order to establish God’s kingdom on earth in advance of Christ’s return.
“What is hard for people to understand about Christian dominionism is that it is not just about being evangelical. It’s about a certain way of looking at the world and saying that Christians are supposed to rule in every area, sort of the ‘seven mountains’ of power,” Butler said, referring to the late NAR founder C. Peter Wagner’s ideas about Seven Mountains Dominionism, which says Christians must seize power in the realms of family, religion, education, business, government, media and the arts.
“What you’re looking at with dominionism is something very different. They’re not only talking about spiritual warfare, they’re talking about principalities and powers that rule over nations and places.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump elevated the causes of Christian dominionists like no president before him. He surrounded himself with NAR leaders such as megachurch pastor Paula White, a Tupelo, Miss., native, whom he named as his White House spiritual adviser. In the early months of his presidency, his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, met privately with ADF leaders to consult with them about “religious liberty.”
Much like Trump himself in the early days of his candidacy, the GOP establishment and much of the media had once failed to take the dominionists that Trump began cultivating seriously, dismissing them as extremists with little chance of influencing the nation’s direction. But they helped Trump shore up support from other Christians who had initially looked at him skeptically—including traditional white evangelicals.
“That is the absolute point right there. Trump did not pick the A-list. He went to a whole other thing,” Butler said. “And that helped him operate in a different way. It was very smart, I’ve got to give it to him. It worked for him. And it’s still working for him.”
Under Trump, the Christian dominionist movement expanded its reach.
“A lot of this was seen in Trump’s administration. It’s also attractive to a lot of people in QAnon,” Butler said, referring to the conspiracy theorist movement that rose to prominence alongside Trump. “It was also attractive to a lot of people who were there on January 6th at the insurrection.”
‘I’m Putting Pro-Life Justices On The Court’
During the 2016 election, Trump exhibited little knowledge of the intricacies of the Christian faith and its various movements, including the NAR. And early on in his campaign, he had exhibited an easiness with funding for Planned Parenthood that upset some in the anti-abortion movement. By the time Trump reached the general-election debate stage in 2016, the Republican nominee, who by then had numerous NAR and other evangelical leaders encircling him, was describing himself as unreservedly anti-abortion.
“Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?” moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News host, asked Trump at a 2016 presidential debate.
“Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that’s really what’s going to be—that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.”
That is exactly what Lynn Fitch, Mississippi’s attorney general, and Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart asked the U.S. Supreme Court to do during oral arguments in the Dobbs case on Dec. 1, 2021.
Before Trump became president, then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked dozens of former President Barack Obama’s nominees for the federal courts—including the Supreme Court seat that Scalia, a conservative, left vacant when he died in early 2016.
Had Obama successfully appointed a replacement for Scalia or had Hillary Clinton won the election and done so, liberal appointees would have constituted a majority on the court for the first time in decades. Instead, McConnell held the seat open for nearly a year, allowing Trump to appoint the conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy. The new president’s first pick was a hit among anti-abortion activists hoping for the emergence of an anti-Roe majority, even though Trump had not yet changed the balance of the high court.
Trump also immediately began filling vacancies in the lower courts with conservative judges, too, most of them pre-approved by the Federalist Society, a right-wing legal group dedicated to remaking the courts. Its membership includes the likes of Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Charles Pickering, a Mississippi judge from Jones County who was an early board member of Alliance Defending Freedom. As recently as 2019, the ADF listed Pickering as a member of its board of directors on its tax filings.
‘Remember The Name Amy Barrett!’
“We believe (Amy Coney) Barrett has the endorsement of heaven behind her,” Lou Engle declared in a July 2, 2018, email newsletter, “The Briefing: Prophetic Insight for Strategic Intercession.”
The Christian dominionist preacher had made the pronouncement on July 2, 2018—five days after the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that he was retiring from the bench. Kennedy’s exit, and the prospect of Trump replacing him with a more conservative jurist, inspired as much dread among supporters of abortion rights as it evoked jubilation within the ranks of the anti-abortion movement.
In 1992, the last time a serious challenge to the underpinnings of Roe v. Wade reached the nation’s high court, Kennedy provided the decisive swing vote to uphold the 1973 precedent, thus preserving the constitutional right to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability. The court split 5-4 in the ruling for that case, Casey v. Planned Parenthood.
The newsletter’s editor, Cheryl Amabile, credited an affiliated organization that Engle had co-founded, Bound4LIFE, for its four-month long, 24-hours-a-day “prayer strike” on the steps of the Supreme Court in 2008. Since the mid-2000s, Bound4LIFE has asked young Christians across the nation to stage “silent sieges” outside courthouses and abortion clinics where they quietly pray with red-duct tape covering their lips and the word “LIFE” across it in black ink.
The organization “knew we needed a seat of government—a judge’s seat—that would align with God’s merciful intent and shift the court, not just from liberal to conservative, but from rebellion to righteousness,” Amabile wrote in the July 2018 note.
The newsletter cited a “prophetic dream” involving then-Second Lady Karen Pence. The dreamer, the newsletter said, was Matt Lockett, the executive director of Engle’s Justice House of Prayer in Washington, D.C., and Bound4LIFE International.
“In the dream, Mrs. Pence was visibly disturbed and worried about something. Matt heard her explaining to some friends how she had been summoned to a meeting about who the next justice should be, and she was concerned because she didn’t know what to say,” Engle’s newsletter said. “Matt grabbed her shoulders in the dream, looked her in the eyes and said: ‘Remember the name Amy Barrett!’”
But the Karen Pence of Lockett’s dreams would have to hold on to that name for another two years. Later that month, Trump announced that he had instead selected Brett Kavanaugh, who had once clerked for Kennedy, as the outgoing justice’s replacement.
‘Summoned to the Bench’
Not everyone in dominionist Christianity was pleased with Trump’s choice of Kavanaugh. In a monthly prayer call led by the NAR group Intercessors For America that Right Wing Watch reported on in 2018, Philip Jauregui, an allied attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom and partner at an Alabama and Mississippi law firm, compared Kavanaugh to Absalom—the biblical son of King David who attempted to usurp his father’s throne.
Jauregui declared that God had already chosen a nominee to fill Kennedy’s seat: Amy Coney Barrett, whom he referred to as “the anointed one” and “the one that God loves.”
“Lord, we ask you in the name of Jesus, would you please let us see President Trump and Amy Coney Barrett Monday night, glorifying you?” prayed the ADF-allied attorney, who is also president of the Judicial Action Group, an Alabama-based judiciary-focused lobbying group.
Barrett is a Catholic member of the ecumenical religious community known as People of Praise. Its founder, Kevin Ranaghan, is a Catholic deacon and a leader of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a Pentecostal sect of Catholicism that believes in and practices spiritual gifts. The Catholic sect, which dates back to the 1970s, has deep connections with NAR figures such as Engle, who often shares stages with like-minded Catholic clergy and teaches that God wants a reconciled Christianity to join forces and build his kingdom.
During the 2018 prayer call, Right Wing Watch reported, Jauregui “asked God to do whatever it takes—including waking up Trump, Melania, and Mike and Karen Pence in the middle of the night and sending angels their way—to keep them from settling on the wrong nominee.”
“And so we say, Absalom, you cannot have it, in the name of Jesus. And you should better leave right now. The longer you stick around, you endanger yourself by opposing God Almighty,” Jauregui cried. “And I’m speaking to the spirit … that would try to usurp and steal the throne from the anointed one. You can’t have it. We bind you, spirit of Absalom, in the name of Jesus, and we tell you, get out now or you will be destroyed.”
In Engle’s July 2, 2018, newsletter days before news of Trump’s pick broke, though, the NAR leader’s ministry had already made room for the possibility that Trump might choose someone other than Barrett to replace Kennedy.
“There is a mystery of course, that comes with the prophetic, but this much is for sure: The Ekklesia of God is being summoned to the bench! Let us not miss our day of visitation,” the newsletter said. “It’s time to wage war in the heavenly realms according to the revelation we’ve been given. … It’s time to partner with the cloud of witnesses and the angelic armies unto a Third Great Awakening and the shifting of our courts.”
In the early 2000s, before his appointment to the federal bench, Kavanaugh served in the Bush White House. After Trump nominated him to replace Kennedy in 2018, the nominee faced questions about his truthfulness regarding his Bush-era efforts to help install Charles Pickering to a vacant seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Questions about Kavanaugh’s handling of the Pickering situation, though, became a footnote in the story of his confirmation after Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath that a drunken Kavanaugh had once tried to rape her at a party. But the sexual-assault allegations did no more than Jauregui’s decrees against “Absolam” to stop McConnell’s efforts to get a new Trump-appointed justice on the Supreme Court before the midterm elections that November—just in case the Republican Party lost control of the Senate.
The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice by 50-48 vote with no Democrats and all but one Republican on Oct. 6, 2018.
‘Testing the Limits of Roe’
After the November 2018 elections saw Republicans keep control of the U.S. Senate, the Jackson federal judge who heard the case over Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban handed down his ruling. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves stuck it down in a blistering opinion that accused Mississippi lawmakers of passing “a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
“With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court, it may be that the State believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation,” the Obama-appointed judge wrote in a November 20, 2018 ruling. “Time will tell. If overturning Roe v. Wade is the State’s desired result, the State will have to seek that relief from a higher court. For now, the United States Supreme Court has spoken.”
“The fact that men, myself included, are determining how a woman may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the court,” he added.
Weeks later, on Dec. 17, 2018, Jim Hood, the Democratic Mississippi attorney general who had just launched a run for governor at the time, filed an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans asking it to reconsider Judge Reeves’ ruling.
Even with the court battle over the 15-week ban ongoing in early 2019, anti-abortion Mississippi lawmakers, emboldened by Kavanaugh’s appointment, set to work on an even more restrictive piece of legislation: a fetal heartbeat bill, banning abortions once a heartbeat becomes detectable. Heartbeats usually become detectable at around six-weeks gestation.
By the time Mississippi lawmakers took up the legislation, other states had been considering or adopting “heartbeat” legislation for years. Several Magnolia State lawmakers had repeatedly introduced the bills in prior sessions, but only after Kavanaugh’s ascension did legislative leaders get behind the effort rather than allowing it to die in committee.
“With a fifth conservative taking the seat of Justice Kennedy, who was considered a moderate on the court, I think a lot of people thought, finally, we have five conservative justices and so now would be a good time to start testing the limits of Roe,” Joey Fillingane, the state senator who co-sponsored the 2019 ban, told this reporter in an interview for another publication in 2019.
The Mississippi heartbeat bills were based on model legislation spearheaded by Janet Porter, a zealous anti-abortion advocate who has long espoused the ideas of Seven Mountains Dominionism and who has ties to NAR leaders like Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets and Lou Engle. Sheets and Engle joined her for a 2011 prayer rally in support of her early efforts to pass the heartbeat law in state legislatures.
Porter once claimed that her prayers for God “to take the state of Florida from Al Gore (and) give it to George Bush so that unborn children will live and not die” had helped change the course of the 2000 election when she was a resident of Broward County, Fla. (In fact, a 5-4 Republican-appointed majority on the U.S. Supreme Court effectively gave the election to Bush when it stopped the Florida recount that year.)
In 2017, Porter served as a spokesperson for Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice who often espoused theocratic notions about the role of religion in government. Porter defended him on national news networks even as multiple allegations of sexual misconduct threatened to derail his campaign. Philip Jauregui, the allied ADF attorney, also served as Moore’s lawyer at the time.
Unlike the failed Moore campaign, Porter scored a string of victories with heartbeat bills in 10 states. After the Mississippi Legislature passed its heartbeat bill in 2019, the Center For Reproductive Rights once again filed a lawsuit in Jackson federal court. During the hearing, Judge Reeves said the passage of yet another, even more restrictive law than the one he had already blocked “smacks of defiance of this court.”
“Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability,” Reeves wrote in his ruling, which blocked the law from taking effect. The state appealed the newest abortion ban to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which also determined that the law was unenforceable under the Roe v. Wade precedent.
But if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to Fitch’s request to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case, the State could ask the lower courts to revisit the decision to block the six-week ban—and potentially revive it.
‘God Can Shift This Supreme Court’
Rocking back and forth in his office chair during an episode of the Christian YouTube show “Your Encounter Today” on Sept. 4, 2020, Lou Engle declared that Trump was “the most pro-life president in the history of America.” He compared the mission to end abortion to President Abraham Lincoln’s warning that, unless America ended slavery, God would continue the Civil War “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”
“We’re at a moment that, if things don’t shift, we could be heading toward a civil war,” Engle declared. “But I believe God can shift this Supreme Court in these days.”
Two weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that 87-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist jurist and Bill Clinton appointee who supported abortion rights, had died. Within an hour of the news, Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced plans to hold hearings to replace her as soon as Trump made his choice—a reversal of his insistence in 2016 that it would have been wrong to let then-President Barack Obama select a new Supreme Court justice in an election year.
Before Ginsburg’s body had been buried, Trump announced the Barrett pick on Sept. 26, 2020. He introduced his nominee to the nation in a White House Rose Garden ceremony that day. Among the attendees was Michael Farris, who shared a photo of himself in the Rose Garden on Facebook.
“Please pray for rapid confirmation and a career marked with courage,” the Alliance Defending Freedom leader wrote.
On Oct. 1, 2020, The Guardian reported that Barrett and her husband, Jesse Barrett, had once signed their names to an ad in the South Bend Tribune with the St. Joseph County Right to Life organization—a group that opposes not only abortion, but also in-vitro fertilization.
“We, the following citizens of Michiana, oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death. Please continue to pray to end abortion,” reads the 2006 ad, evoking language similar to that used in Mississippi’s 2011 Personhood Amendment campaign (Mississippi voters rejected that proposed amendment by a 58%-to-42% margin as the incoming Republican governor, Phil Bryant, lamented that “the evil dark side in this world is taking hold.”).
On Oct. 9, 2020, CNN reported that Barrett had failed to disclose two speeches she gave discussing abortion as a faculty administrator at Notre Dame University in 2013. The Mississippi Free Press searched Notre Dame student publications, though, which included three articles from the time that quoted from Barrett’s speeches.
“Republicans are heavily invested in getting judges who will overturn Roe,” The Observer, Notre Dame’s student newspaper, reported Barrett saying in a Jan. 18, 2013 speech. “And Democrats are heavily invested in getting judges who will preserve the central holding of Roe. As a result, there have been divisive confirmation battles of a sort not seen before.”
During the confirmation hearings, Barrett declined to state her position on Roe v. Wade, but said she would respect the court’s precedents and would not allow her personal beliefs to influence her rulings. At the same time, though, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican, ran campaign ads implying that her support for Barrett was a vote to defend “the rights of the unborn.”
Just days before the 2020 election, on Oct. 26, Republican senators voted to confirm Barrett by a 52-to-48 vote with every Democratic member opposed. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican vote against Barrett’s confirmation.
Within less than two weeks, major news organizations would declare Biden the winner of the 2020 election. But Trump had already made a mark on the nation’s high court with ramifications that could reverberate for generations beyond his term in the White House.
‘The Beginning of the Great Revival’
In a 2016 Washington Post column, Michael Farris called Trump “the antithesis of everything we set out to achieve.” But by the time Trump was unleashing a torrent of factually baseless claims of “election fraud” in the wake of his 2020 loss, the ADF leader had been converted by the Republican president’s willingness to appoint favorable judges to the nation’s courts. Between November and December 2020, Farris worked behind the scenes to help aid Trump’s attempt at holding onto the White House despite losing the election..
Last year, The New York Times reported that, in late 2020, Farris drafted a lawsuit as part of an attempt to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin. The report said that Farris shopped the draft around to Republican attorneys general across the country alongside Mark D. Martin, the former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice and the dean of Regent University School of Law, a Christian institution.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the Farris-authored lawsuit under his own name on Dec. 7, 2020, joined by 17 GOP attorneys general, including Mississippi’s own Lynn Fitch. But the U.S. Supreme Court, including the new Trump-appointed justice that Farris had voiced support for, rejected the lawsuit four days later. (Farris would later tell the New York Times that he drafted the lawsuit in his “personal” capacity, not as part of his work with ADF). It was one of several similar lawsuits the federal courts would reject in the waning days of Trump’s presidency.
Electoral and legal failures did not deter anti-abortion activists, hower. Between December 2020 and early January 2021, Christians who believed God had ordained Trump to turn America to Christ gathered in Washington, D.C. Standing outside the U.S. Capitol, Department of Justice and the Supreme Court, the faithful marched, prayed and blew shofars.
They intended the blowing of the ram-horn trumpets to recall the biblical story of how the ancient Israelites blew shofars outside the walls of Jericho as they besieged the city (described in the Book of Joshua as one of false gods) and brought its walls tumbling down.
The religious Trump supporters had gathered in the nation’s capital for a series of religiously themed events held by an organization called “The Jericho March.” On its website, the organizers of the Jericho March explained that the attendees were petitioning God to cause “the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down.”
Figures from Trump’s orbit spoke at the Jericho marches and other similar rallies, many of them summoning the rhetoric of Christian dominionism as they cheered on his efforts to subvert the election results. At one Jericho March event, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, described the fight to keep the Republican president in office as “a spiritual battle for the hearts and soul of this country.”
“(We’re in) Jericho, we’re inside the walls of the Deep State. And there is evil, and there’s corruption. And there’s light, and there’s truth. We’re going to get to the light, and we’re going to get to the truth. And us, inside of the barricade, we’re gonna knock those walls down,” said Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the Trump team’s communications with Russia before Trump pardoned him in late November 2020.
At one event on the national mall, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, known for his baseless claims that the Sandy Hook school massacre was a “false flag,” declared that “humanity is awakening.”
“Jesus Christ is King. This is the beginning of the great revival before the Antichrist comes,” Jones said, invoking distinctly NAR ideas about the biblical end times.
‘The Blood of Jesus Covering This Place’
On Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters surrounded the U.S. Capitol, with hundreds scaling its walls and storming its doors in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of the U.S. election. The assortment of groups present inside and outside the Capitol included avowed white nationalists like the Proud Boys, and even anti-vaccine activists.
While insurrectionists with Confederate flags, Blue Lives Matter flags and Trump hats tore through the halls of Congress and clashed violently with Capitol Police, a Christian Trump supporter outside blew a shofar while a woman chanted into a microphone, “Peace in the name of Jesus; the blood of Jesus covering this place, the blood of Jesus covering this place.”
Elsewhere outside, Trump supporters wearing red MAGA hats and American flags as superhero capes swayed, fell to their knees, and worshipped with their hands lifted to the sky as a speaker filled the air with the sound of Christian singer Kari Job’s “Revelation Song.” (Job was among the many Christian figures who paid a visit to Trump in the Oval Office during his time in the White House).
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is and is to come,” her voice boomed as Trump supporters elsewhere ransacked the halls of Congress. “With all creation I sing praises to the king of kings / You are my everything and I will adore you.”
But not all religiously oriented supporters of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election that day stayed on the ground. Higher up on Capitol Hill, a wide banner with the words “JESUS 2020” flapped in the breeze. Planted next to it stood a white and green Appeal to Heaven flag like the one Dutch Sheets uses in his ministry.
Seventeenth-century political theorist John Locke inspired the flag with his assertion that, when a people “have no appeal on earth, they have a liberty to appeal to heaven.” For many Christian Trump supporters who had watched the nation’s high court reject his last-ditch efforts, the idea held special resonance.
“It’s a flag that was used during the American Revolution, it might even have been used by George Washington,” Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, told the Mississippi Free Press when asked about the growing use of the pine tree flag. “And they are invoking, as is typical of Christian nationalist thinking, God and the founding fathers in the same breath. I think that’s what the Appeal to Heaven flag is about. Its use during the Revolution in their thinking means it was a godly inspired event, so to be in the spirit of the American Revolution is a godly and inspired activity to build a Christian nation.”
Three days after the insurrection, on Jan. 9, Sheets posted a video to YouTube calling the media’s reaction to the insurrection and the impeachment effort it sparked “demonically inspired hatred (of Trump) driving an ongoing plan to turn America away from God and our roots.” Still, he predicted, God would “work a miracle in the midnight hour” to keep Trump in power.
But 11 days later, Joe Biden took the oath of office. Trump was gone. Biden quickly disposed of a document, known as the 1776 Commission Report, that Trump had tasked former Mississippi Gov. Bryant, Farris and others to draft with recommendations for creating a so-called “patriotic” education system that de-emphasized the nation’s history of racial oppression and white supremacy.
The Biden Justice Department also formally rescinded the former president’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant parents from their children. But Trump’s lifetime appointees to the federal bench remained.
‘The Just Judgment of God’
Evangelical organizations joined forces after Biden’s inauguration to continue pushing Trump’s uncorroborated claims of illegal voter fraud. In March 2021, the New York Times reported, the evangelical Family Research Council’s president, Tony Perkins, teamed up with Michael Farris to promote state legislation to restrict voting rights.
“We’ve got 106 election-related bills that are in 28 states right now,” Perkins said. “So here’s the good news: There is action taking place to go back and correct what was uncovered in this last election.”
Farris, the Times reported, stood next to Perkins and offered his approval. “Let me just say, ‘Amen,” Farris said.
Two months later, Trump’s judicial legacy would bear fruit for the evangelicals and Christian dominionists who had overlooked his vices and rallied around his promise to deliver favorable justices. On May 17, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal in the Dobbs case. With Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, the ADF had succeeded in the goal its leaders had described early in Trump’s presidency: getting a case to the U.S. Supreme Court that could truly challenge Roe v. Wade for the first time since 1992.
“The sanctity of life. The future of our children. Mississippi is at the forefront of protecting both,” Gov. Reeves tweeted that day. “And that is what is at stake in the case we have been praying the U.S. Supreme Court would decide to hear. Thanks to millions of voters in 2016, President Donald Trump appointed three new Supreme Court Justices.”
In a statement that afternoon, Jarvis Dortch, the ACLU of Mississippi’s executive director and a former state lawmaker from Jackson, blasted state politicians for their successful gambit.
“Lawmakers that supported this ban should be up-front and honest about their goal. The 15-week and 6-week abortion bans were political vehicles to get the Supreme Court to completely take away a person’s right to make decisions about their own body,” Dortch said. “… The Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Reeves continue to believe they can make personal decisions on the behalf of all Mississippians.”
The Dobbs case generated dozens of “friend of the court” filings, known as amicus briefs, from all manner of organizations. Among them was Intercessors For America, the group that held the 2018 prayer call in which Jauregui declared Kavanaugh was a “usurper” of Barrett’s rightful appointment. The brief, which Jauregui filed on the organization’s behalf in July 2021, declared that “America is awash with innocent blood from the murder of 61.8 million preborn persons through the brutal means of abortion.”
“America is under bloodguilt, and we should not be surprised that God may bring—or may now be bringing—His judgment upon America and Americans for all this shedding of innocent blood,” the ADF-allied attorney and IFA told the nation’s high court.
The brief compared the nation’s fate if Roe v. Wade remains to President Abraham Lincoln’s warning that America could face God’s judgment for slavery “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”
“One can only tremble to think what awaits our nation today due to the wholesale slaughter of our nameless sons and daughters. Americans have tolerated the evil being done to the preborn—and this brings us all under the just judgment of God,” Jauregui’s brief said.
‘Evil Attacks The Most Innocent’
On Nov. 11, 2021, Intercessors For America President Dave Kabul hosted former Gov. Bryant on the Intercessors For America YouTube show. During the interview, the former Mississippi governor made clear that getting a case to the U.S. Supreme Court had always been part of the plan when he signed the 15-week ban into law.
“They said, ‘Oh, you passed this law so it would go to the Supreme Court, and you might be able to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’in that true?’ Absolutely, you got me again,” Bryant said, drawing chuckles from Kabul.
The Magnolia State’s former top official told the host that abortion became available in America because of “demonic spirits that have found their way into a willing body of public officials and activists and judges.” He compared abortion to the Holocaust in which the Nazis systematically murdered two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.
“For hundreds and thousands of years, we’ve known (that a fetus) was a life,” Bryant said. “Then all of a sudden some activists in America in the 1970s just came along and said, you know, we just don’t think it is. And you know, for the longest time they had us believing it was just some set of protoplasms or some fatty tissues or something and just don’t worry about it. And then we just saw the horrors. This is as bad in comparison to what Germany was doing to the Jews.”
Then, Bryant made another comparison—the same one NAR leaders like Engle often draw between Roe v. Wade and the biblical massacres of infants in Moses and Jesus’ generations.
“So you see, they start attacking the children. When they said go into the village and kill every child under the age of two. And God put judgment on those leaders in Egypt and Herod—put horrible judgment on them,” he said. “… They destroyed the lives of innocent babies. Was that by happenstance? Of course not. We know evil attacks the most innocent. And we’ve got to free the world of the blindness that has prevailed.”
In the days before the Dobbs hearing, the organization held a “Reception For Life” with former Gov. Bryant in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 30, 2021. At the reception, the IFA honored Bryant, Fitch and Trump for their contributions to the cause.
‘Ending Roe Is A Beginning, Not An End’
If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case, not only would the 15-week ban take effect, but it would almost immediately trigger a 2007 law that would restore the state’s pre-Roe law and “prohibit abortions in the state of Mississippi” at any stage, “except in cases where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or where the pregnancy was caused by rape.” Anyone violating that law by providing an abortion would, as in the pre-Roe era, face up to 10 years in prison. Similar laws would immediately either ban or greatly restrict abortion in 21 other states, too.
On Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves spoke at the “Pray Together For Life” event at New Horizon Church, a predominantly Black church in Jackson. With an interracial host of anti-abortion activists from across the nation seated behind him on the stage and in front of him in the seats, the governor touted his role in passing the ADF-authored 15-week ban when he was lieutenant governor and president of the Mississippi Senate in 2018.
“Tonight, I submit to you that we are all Mississippians, and we’re going to work together and fight together to make this nation the safest nation in the world for an unborn child,” said Reeves, whose state has the nation’s highest infant-mortality rate. “… Abortion is barbaric. Abortion is evil. It’s probably the greatest evil of our day.”
The governor told the congregation that he believes in his “heart that God is doing great things here in America because we’re seeing more and more people who agree with us.” But even if his state succeeds at overturning Roe v. Wade, the fight to further outlaw abortions would not end there.
“There would still be 39 countries in Europe that have more restrictive abortion policies than the most conservative state in America. This fight will not be over,” Reeves said. “We have to understand that.”
Clarkson, the expert on Christian dominionism, told the Mississippi Free Press that, for Christian dominionists, abortion is “one evil as part of a larger battle against evil in bringing forward the kingdom of God as they understand it.”
“Ending Roe is a beginning, not an end,” he said.
At New Horizon Church, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, whose organization hosted the Prayer Together For Life event, introduced the speakers in the room. Several prominent national anti-abortion leaders beamed in on screens to join them, including Farris, who offered a prayer while standing on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Former U.S. House Rep. Michele Bachmann, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate who drew headlines in 2011 for her Christian dominionist views and is now the board chairman for the Family Research Council, also made a virtual appearance.
“You are the Lord most high. You are the Lord of heaven’s armies. Would you dispatch your heavenly host, father, this week? We appeal to you, O righteous judge in your heavenly courts,” Bachmann prayed. “I ask, O God, that your holy spirit would fill the chamber of the Supreme Court during this most important moment when the arguments are made. But father, these men are but dust, one day these justices, men and women, their knees will bow, their tongues will confess that you are Lord.”
Bishop Vincent Matthews, the Black senior pastor of a church in Johannesburg, South Africa, also spoke, comparing Roe v. Wade to the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford case, which denied citizenship to people of African descent.
“The Supreme Court has been wrong before. It’s corrected itself,” Matthews said. “In 1857, a Black slave went to St. Louis and sued the government to say that he should be free, and in 1857, they told Dred Scott you’re not human because the science of the time said that people that looked like me were not human.”
From Segregation to Abortion
Some leading Black abortion-rights organizers in the Magnolia State are already boosting efforts to educate communities about options for safely self-managing abortions in the event that clinical abortions become unavailable. Mississippi abortion-rights organizers warn that the fallout from overturning Roe v. Wade would disproportionately affect Black residents.
SHERO Mississippi Director Michelle Colon told the Mississippi Free Press in October 2021 that she does not consider it a coincidence that the predominantly white anti-abortion movement rose to political prominence on the heels of 1960s social movements. She also criticized claims by some Mississippi politicians, including former Gov. Bryant, that abortion amounts to “Black genocide” because many lower-income women seeking abortions are Black.
“It was backlash to the Civil Rights Movement, and it was backlash to the feminist movement,” she said. “These are people who are pro-gun, pro-death penalty, anti-Medicaid expansion. They talk about genocide. Poverty is genocide, police brutality is genocide, hunger is genocide, misogyny is genocide, clinic violence is genocide, illiteracy is genocide. Abortion is not genocide.”
Frederick Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press that he believes racist attitudes are “in the mix” when it comes to anti-abortion activism and Christian dominionism, but that motives vary across the movements because of their complex histories.
“I’m not sure it’s a primary motivator for everybody, because remember, the principal forces opposed to abortions were not evangelicals at the time of Roe. It was the Catholic Church,” he said. “The Southern Baptist Convention was moderately pro-choice. It was much later that they got involved, and the theology and organizing of the evangelical wing of things didn’t really get started until the mid-’70s. There’s a lot of history behind how the major elements of the Christian right got involved in these things, and it wasn’t over abortion; it was over racial segregation and private Christian academies.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the racial integration of public schools, private all-white Christian academies sprang up across the South, with hundreds seemingly springing up overnight in Mississippi alone between the fall and spring semesters of the 1969-1970 school year. Late in the fall of 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its final, unavoidable order on the matter.
Many white students, including U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, did not return to public school that spring, with their parents sending them instead to newly established segregation academies. Bryant, himself, attended a segregation academy in Jackson in the 1960s. His was Council McCluer, one of a string of Citizens Council schools that sprang up around Jackson, openly teaching that Black children were intellectually and biologically inferior to white children, an argument Council-supported attorneys also used to try to get Brown v. Board of Education overturned. Southern conservative religious leaders had long taught that segregation was a God-ordained institution.
‘Racism Is A Stronghold’
In “White Evangelical Racism,” Dr. Anthea Butler explains how a later U.S. Supreme Court case, Bob Jones University v. United States, helped accelerate the growth of the evangelical right. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-to-1 in that case that a Greenville, S.C., Christian institution of higher education could not keep its tax-exempt status while maintaining a policy of excluding students in interracial marriages or banning interracial dating.
The university, whose namesake once accepted donations from the Ku Klux Klan and claimed God was the author of segregation, kept the ban on interracial dating in place until 2000, when it caused an uproar for the George W. Bush presidential campaign after he paid the campus a visit.
R.J. Rushdoony, the Christian Reconstructionism founder, was among those on the right who helped organize to support Bob Jones University ahead of its 1983 U.S. Supreme Court showdown. The early dominionist had long railed against public education and its secularizing influence. Long before Farris took up the cause, Rushdoony preached the gospel of Christian homeschooling across the country and worked to legitimize it as a legally viable option nationwide.
The Reconstructionists’ views on education and religious liberty continue to help shape the ongoing political battles in the country. On Dec. 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Carson v. Makin, a case in which the Alliance Defending Freedom is arguing that students should be able to use state tuition funds to attend private schools. The earliest school vouchers in Mississippi came in 1964 when the all-white Mississippi Legislature passed a tuition-grant law specifically to benefit white parents who were moving their children into new whites-only segregation academies, which continued to grow across the state over the next decade.
Many early segregation academies lost tax-exempt status for only allowing white children, and dozens had to repay federal tax money they were not legally allowed to receive. Now, most seg academies have rebranded as Christian academies, which teach curricula like Bob Jones and Abeka that draw criticism from education experts for minimizing history about slavery and racial oppression in the U.S. and now even anti-racism activism in the county. All but a handful have a miniscule number of Black and Brown children attending. Some still have all-white student bodies.
In her book on “White Evangelical Racism,” Dr. Anthea Butler describes racism as a primary motivator underpinning white evangelical politics. In her interview with the Mississippi Free Press, though, she emphasized that Christian dominionists from the pentecostal New Apostolic Reformation movement are not the same as regular evangelicals—despite sharing political views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
“(Dominionist pentecostals) would say racism is a stronghold and talk about it as a spiritual thing,” she said, referring to the NAR idea of “spiritual strongholds” that refers to external forces that have power over someone. “Evangelicals would not see it as structural. They would see it as an individual sin. They’re also coming from different places, too. Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostal movements have been racially integrated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not affected by racism. Just because people are together doesn’t mean they’re together.
“You can look at them and say, ‘Oh wow, they look really different because they’re interracial, and there’s lots of women. But they have some of the same belief structures that regular evangelicals do. How they present is different.”
Conservative efforts to reshape the U.S. Supreme Court mounted in the late 20th century following years of socially progressive rulings that advanced the rights of women and people of color. The launch of the Federalist Society in 1982 began a decades-long effort that would see the organization’s endorsement become a necessity for Republican judicial appointments.
After the Bob Jones case, then-President Ronald Reagan made his mark on the court when he made William Rehnquist the 16th Chief Justice of the United States in 1986—despite the fact that, in a 1952 memo, Rehnquist had argued against ending segregation by writing that it was “about time the Court faced the fact that the white people of the south do not like the colored people.”
That same year, Reagan appointed conservative Justice Antonin Scalia to the nation’s high courts. Scalia, Rehnquist and Reagan’s earlier appointee and first woman on the high court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, later joined the court’s minority in voting against upholding Roe v. Wade in 1992. But Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy did not, switching sides at the last minute to uphold the right to an abortion in a narrow 5-4 majority.
‘The Most Profound Democratic Values’
“In short, in a single term, the Supreme Court could demolish pillars of the progressive movement,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during a speech in Wisconsin focused on the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2016.
“And as someone who has worked on every single one of these issues for decades, I see this as a make-or-break moment. If you care about the fairness of elections, the future of unions, racial disparities in universities, the rights of women, or the future of our planet, you should care about who wins the presidency and appoints the next Supreme Court justices.”
During that address and several times throughout her campaign, Clinton highlighted the courts and argued that electing a president such as Trump to appoint future justices could, among other things, result in the end of Roe v. Wade. Even though the election would almost certainly determine who appointed Scalia’s replacement, her speeches on the topic drew little notice from the political media, which spent the election focusing heavily on questions about her emails and “likability” or her Republican opponent’s often offensive rants.
Though Clinton won the overall popular vote, voters who told exit pollsters that the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in how they voted broke for Trump 56%-to-41%. Earlier 2016 pre-election polls also reflected that court appointments motivated more Republicans than Democrats.
But if liberals, progressives and other Democratic voters have begun paying more attention to the U.S. Supreme Court in the years since, Frederick Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press, it’s “too late.”
“Way too late. … My entire life is like a spectacle of cognitive dissonance.”
For years, Clarkson said, he has watched Christian dominionism’s influence on the nation’s culture and on the levers of power grow without “an appropriate response” from the media or more democratic-minded Americans.
“To my knowledge, nowhere in the United States has any affected community or politically oriented entity to the left of the Christian Right responded to any of the evolving strategy and institution-building that the Christian Right and the general right has done. … They take the stability and the moderation of contemporary society for granted, and they don’t believe you when you tell them it’s being threatened by people who are really good at what they’re up to,” he said.
Clarkson said he sees the Christian Right’s influence playing out once again under the radar in the battle over school boards and what can be taught in public schools. He detailed some of those efforts in an October 2021 report for Religious Dispatches.
“Historically in electoral politics, you think about what they call ‘coattails’ in presidential elections, that is, a lot of people would get elected if a presidential candidate had coattails and could bring people up,” he said.
“They’re looking at things in reverse now, saying it’s actually the grass-rootsy school board-level activism that will give an updraft to help upticket races. And I think that’s a correct understanding of how this is going to work, and that’s why (Southern Baptist political activist) Rick Scarborough is saying this is the new base of the Republican Party, and I think he’s absolutely right.”
‘We’re Going Into A New World’
After the Dec. 1, 2021, hearings in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, court observers noted that there appeared to be a conservative majority, including all three Trump appointees, ready to strike down Roe v. Wade and uphold the Alliance Defending Freedom-authored law. That view would only be solidified days later on Dec. 10 when the court declined to temporarily block a Texas law that allows people to sue anyone they suspect of obtaining an abortion in the Lonestar State after about six weeks gestation.
In a statement on Thursday, Jan. 20, the Center For Reproductive Rights acknowledged that it could lose the Dobbs case and that the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Saturday, Jan. 22 “could be its last.” The organization called on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify the right to abortion as one protected under federal law. But that could be a heavy lift in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans could filibuster such legislation.
“The Supreme Court has allowed Roe to become a dead letter in Texas, the second-largest state in the country,” Center For Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northrup said. “For almost five months now, Texans have been denied this constitutional right. … It seems Roe is just barely hanging on by a thread.”
In the hours, days and weeks after the Dobbs hearing, spirits among anti-abortion leaders have been notably higher. At the Washington, D.C., panel hosted by the ADF on the evening after the oral arguments, Mississippi’s attorney general said she believed divine providence was at work.
“General Fitch has ensured throughout this case that her office has championed life in the courtroom and the public square winsomely and with great compassion,” Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel Kristen Waggoner said as she introduced Fitch on Dec. 1, 2021.
Fitch was glowing.
Stewart, the Mississippi solicitor general, joined Fitch on the stage, as did Erin Hawley, who serves as senior counsel for ADF and, Waggoner said, assisted Mississippi in preparing to make its case to the Supreme Court. Her husband, Josh Hawley, is a U.S. senator from Missouri.
Like most court observers, Fitch said she believed her arguments would emerge victorious when the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Dobbs case later this year.
“And now we move on to the next step until we get that wonderful opinion that overturns Roe v. Wade and then go to a new world, a post-Roe world, and we get to make exciting things happen with one another for those precious unborn children that will be brought into this world and for their mothers.”
Fitch called her office’s work in the case “a God thing” and declared that “we today turned the page on Roe v. Wade.”
“We’ve all been called. We’ve all been waiting. And now it’s here,” Fitch told Waggoner. “We start the next chapter for all we have to do, probably for that June decision. We do have to be mindful that we have hard work, but we’re ready. Everyone in this room, we’re ready—a united front. And for the first time, we’re going to say we believe, we have faith and we’re going into a new world post-Roe v. Wade.”
Outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization almost two months later on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, anti-abortion activists gathered for a sidewalk prayer service to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The small group of clinic escorts who help patients avoid the protesters’ shouts and pleas as they enter the building stood guard around the parking lot.
Derenda Hancock, who has helped guard the Pink House since 2013, stood on the dividing line between the sidewalk and clinic property that picketers are legally prohibited from crossing. After the December hearings, she fears the time may soon come when the escorts’ help is no longer needed at the clinic.
On the morning of what could be Roe v. Wade’s last anniversary, Hancock noticed a new face joining the cast of regular anti-abortion protesters who line the sidewalk and street in front of the Pink House every week: a young dark-haired priest holding a Crucifix, his black robes billowing in the frigid morning breeze. She walked over and introduced herself to the man, who introduced himself as Father Taylor. He said it was his first time praying at the Jackson clinic.
“Are you coming back next year for the 50th anniversary?” Hancock asked him, teasing a hope that there might still be an abortion clinic left to visit in Mississippi come January 2023.
“I don’t know,” the priest replied.
“I think you should.”
Part III of “The Christian Dominionist War On Abortion” will be available soon.
This story originally appeared in the Mississippi Free Press. The Mississippi Free Press is a statewide nonprofit news outlet that provides most of its stories free to other media outlets to republish. Write [email protected] for information.