Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted an image of a Latin cross drawn in chalk outside the governor’s mansion last month along with the message: “New artwork to welcome people into the Governor’s mansion! So proud of how hard the kids worked and how well their masterpiece turned out!”
Some might dismiss this as an innocuous post by a proud parent showing off what their children have accomplished. In reality, it’s another in a long series of actions she has taken to promote Christianity and advocate for the preferential treatment of Christians through her public position as governor.
(I do want to note that the fact her children even drew the cross at all is highly suspect. It is certainly not impossible, but it seems unlikely that children of their own volition conceived of and executed an intricate drawing of a Latin cross. It seems more probable that the idea and planning for the drawing came from an adult, most likely Sanders herself.)
Many people were rightly outraged by the post and the blatantly Christian display. After all, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from showing favoritism towards religion over nonreligion, and one religion over others. The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment requires “government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” A Christian cross is not welcoming to non-Christians, and when viewed in the context of Gov. Sanders’ consistent abuse of her public office to promote Christianity, her message of Christian favoritism and exclusion of non-Christians is clear.
But the controversy she created is exactly what she hoped for. She wants to be able to claim that she is being criticized for being a Christian, not for being a public official misusing her public office and a public building to promote her personal religious beliefs.
She has made clear time and again that her goal as governor is to advance Christianity and preference Christians. For instance, she tweeted in January:
She believes that “the identity that truly matters” is that we are “children of God,” and that “we all share” that identity. And, of course, we know that the God she is referring to is the Christian God. This not only denigrates the nonreligious and non-Christian residents of Arkansas and the United States, but seems to deny their existence at all. This is a ridiculous assertion given that 37 percent of Americans are non-Christians, including nearly one in three adult Americans (29 percent) who are religiously unaffiliated.In February, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to Sanders after she visited an elementary school to read and distribute copies of Trump administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s Why America Matters, a children’s book promoting the ahistoric view that the Framers of the Constitution founded America on Judeo-Christian values.
Sanders has repeatedly used her position to advance Christianity, but now wants to claim that she is being persecuted because people are calling out her blatantly unconstitutional actions. In response to a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State asking her to remove the drawing, she responded with a letter posted on Twitter:
I will not erase the beautiful cross my kids drew in chalk on the driveway of the Governor’s Mansion or remove my post on social media, and I will not now or ever hide that I am a Christian, saved by Christ.
No one is asking Sanders to hide the fact that she is a Christian. We are all VERY aware. All we want is for her to stop using her governmental position and bully pulpit to advance her personal religion and denigrate non-Christians. She insists in her letter though:
You are wrong to claim that our Constitution prevents public officials, let alone their families from making earnest expressions of religious faith. Our founding documents are riddled with religious language — stating plainly that the very rights you claim to defend are “endowed by our Creator. You are asking me to ignore that truth and hide a crucial part of my identity and the identity of my kids. That, I will not do.
It is hard to believe that the drawing is really an “earnest expression of religious faith” and not just a political stunt. There is a clear difference between personal expressions of religious faith and creating a Christian image meant to “welcome people into the Governor’s mansion.” The entire purpose of the drawing is to send a message to those visiting the mansion and the millions more viewing it on Twitter, hardly an earnest expression of faith. Sanders is also spreading the core Christian nationalist lie that our country was founded on Christianity. Our founding documents are not “riddled with religious language,” and the Constitution she took an oath to uphold is, in fact, secular.
Gov. Sanders is free to fill every square inch of the private areas of the governor’s mansion with crosses, and maybe she has, but she cannot use the public areas of the property to send a message of favoritism and preference for Christians, even temporarily. For instance, she could not erect a 50-foot-high cross in the yard of the governor’s mansion and claim it is just her personal religious expression. She self-righteously declares in her public missive:
In Arkansas, we stand up to bullying liberals. We won’t let you power-wash our kids’ chalk drawings off our front steps. We won’t let you tear down Christmas decorations and stomp our traditions into the dirt. We don’t live our lives in fear of strongly worded letters coming down from Washington.
Now the mask comes off and the fact that this is entirely a political stunt is clear. The only people who would expect a public official to refrain from pushing their religion and to respect the separation between church and state must be “bullying liberals,” in her telling. She declaims in her letter:
I am offended by the implication that, just because I am a Christian, I am somehow a bigot. All people, of all faiths, are welcome in our state. All Arkansans are welcome in the Governor’s Mansion. We are all citizens of the same great country — one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
As far as I am aware, no one has called Sanders a bigot in connection with this religious display, but Sanders has made it clear by word and action that “all people” are certainly not welcome in Arkansas. It is also worth noting that even this false suggestion that “all people, of all faiths” are welcome excludes the nonreligious. And Sanders is following these disingenuous statements by noting we are “one nation under God” — which just highlights the fact that Sanders is a Christian nationalist troll. This is all, it seems, we can expect from her.