From cultural genocide to the Dobbs decision, religious tyranny is America’s big bully

By TheCriticalMind | 20 May 2024
Daily Kos

A photo taken in about 1905 of female students and several sisters at St. Paul in Hays, Montana. (Montana Historical Society Library and Archives)

We think of bullying as a school-age evil. But it does not stop when we grow up. Gerrymandering and voter ID laws are the acts of people with power pushing the powerless around. And much of organized religion comprises bullies in the pulpit lecturing others how to live. Their weapon is not a punch in the mouth. It is the threat of eternal damnation.

Do not get me wrong. Being religious does not mean you are a bully. But using religion to beat people down makes you one.

If Jesus were to visit America, he would find much to applaud in the actions of many religious citizens. He would approve of the charitable contributions — financial and temporal — made by millions of church-goers. But while individually, many believers have honored his memory in word and deed, organizationally, many American church leaders have acted like sociopathic thugs.

Looking beyond the decent people who do their best to live moral lives as good neighbors, Jesus would be enraged at the callous inhumanity practiced by church managers, their direct reports, and eager bigots who commit atrocities in his name. And he would weep at the weak-minded who sacrificed their decency at the command of their spiritual leaders.

Today, the Washington Post reported on their investigation of a federally funded Catholic Church campaign to strip native Americans of their cultural identity. And worse.

In the name of God’ outlines the treatment of the indigenous population by entitled whites. Crucifix-wearing opportunists, under the banner of Manifest Destiny, grabbed other people’s land and ground non-white ‘heathens’ under the wheels of their western expansion. In the process, some used children for sex.

As WaPo put it:

For decades, Catholic priests, brothers and sisters raped or molested Native American children who were taken from their homes by the U.S. government and forced to live at remote boarding schools, a Post investigation found.

The report features living victims. It relates tales of abuse as late as 1969. Clarita Vargas (64) tells of being sexually assaulted for three years at St. Mary’s Mission, a Catholic-run Indian boarding school in Omak, WA, starting when she was 8.

Jay (surname withheld for anonymity) is a 70-year-old member of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes. Sanctimonious sadists ripped him away from his family and sent him to St. Paul Mission and Boarding School in Hays, MT. When he was 11, a Jesuit brother raped him in a shack next to the pine grove where the priests cut down Christmas trees. “He said if I ever told anybody that, I would go to hell,” Jay recalled.

Geraldine Charbonneau Dubourt, 75, was one of nine sisters that priests physically and sexually abused at an Indian boarding school in Marty, SD. She said that she was 16 when a Catholic priest repeatedly raped her in a church basement.

She added that a doctor and several Catholic sisters later forced her to undergo an abortion. That hypocrisy needs no highlight. Dubourt added what the survivors of sexual violence know to their core, “If somebody says you get over the abuse, trust me, you don’t get over it.”

The Post went from the specific to the general. And the report outlined that the assaults were not just sexual but cultural.

From 1819 to 1969, tens of thousands of children were sent to more than 500 boarding schools across the country, the majority run or funded by the U.S. government. Children were stripped of their names, their long hair was cut, and they were beaten for speaking their languages, leaving deep emotional scars on Native American families and communities.

By 1900, 1 out of 5 Native American school-age children attended a boarding school. At least 80 of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church or its religious affiliates.

The paper enumerated the cruelty.

At least 122 priests, sisters, and brothers assigned to 22 boarding schools since the 1890s were later accused of sexually abusing Native American children under their care, The Post found. Most of the documented abuse occurred in the 1950s and 1960s and involved more than 1,000 children.

The number of offenders was certainly greater. Victims of sex crimes often bury the pain and shame by shutting the horror away — while their abusers continue their atrocities.

Some religious apologists might dismiss this as the actions of a few bad apples. But that does not address the institutional reaction to sex crimes and its systemic cultural genocide — not just in the US, but throughout the Americas. It also cannot be waved away as ancient history. The Catholic Church infamously continued its coverup of child-raping priests into the 21st century.

This ongoing brutality brings us to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) — and its 2022, rights-stripping Dobbs case. That decision was not based on a disinterested analysis of constitutional law. The choice to deny American women the right to determine their reproductive lives came after a 49-year, religious campaign to pack the Supreme Court for that purpose. And the six religious conservative Justices did not disappoint their sponsors.

We can expect more from these religious bullies in the future. There are rumblings that the right to contraception is on the line. The fundamentalists are itching to biblify schools and religiously indoctrinate youth against their will. (See Indigenous kids above). And these religious hooligans are siding with bigots to deny LGBTQ their rights in the marketplace.

It may well get worse. One presidential candidate is a bully. Should he regain the White House, the useful fool will further advance religious tyranny in America, without ever entering a church. Fundamentalists will not care. They are not Christian in any recognizable sense.

Paradoxically, this repression in the name of religion is occurring in a country that is losing its religion. It is possible because the Court does not reflect the increasingly secular demographics of America. All nine justices — including, to be fair, the three who voted to preserve women’s rights — are religious. No atheist gets a vote. Six are Catholic (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Sotomayor.) One is Jewish (Kagan). Two are Protestant (Gorsuch — an Episcopalian, who was raised Catholic. And Jackson — who is non-denominational).

This disparity in religiosity between the American people and their highest court reflects an American paradox. The government is constitutionally constrained from using religion to determine policy. But Congress keeps two chaplains on the payroll. And it kicks off every session with a prayer. Religion is far more of a force in a country that has no official faith, than in many countries where there is a state religion.

I was once leery of expanding SCOTUS. I no longer am. We may not be able to get rid of bullies in America, but we have every right — even a duty — to weaken their hold. And that includes voting in November


Sexual abuse of Native American children at boarding schools exposed in new report

Research uncovers role of churches and religious groups in Indigenous boarding schools

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