Religious extremism is rearing its ugly ahead once again. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that ISIS, the Sunni extremist group that recently declared an Islamic state in parts of Syria and Iraq, has ordered shop owners in Mosul to cover the faces of mannequins with veils. The shop owners were told to cover the faces of male and female mannequins, so that they were in line with their interpretations of the First Commandment that prohibits "graven images," including statues or artwork that depict the human form.
Similarly, ISIS also believes that women must be subservient to their husbands at all times, and that they should be covered up when in public. While these kinds of religious extremist beliefs may seem like they’re limited to groups in the Middle East, they’re not. That’s because we have our very own ISIS and very own Taliban right here in the United States.
It’s called the Christian hard-right, it’s been in America for a very long time, and it’s pushing beliefs that share a worldview and a face with those of ISIS and the Taliban.
On Tuesday, Republicans down in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District voted for Baptist pastor and right-wing radio show host Jody Hice to be the Republican candidate for that seat in November’s midterm elections. And, if Hice makes it to Washington, there’s little doubt that he’ll be the most hard-right religious conservative in our nation’s capital.
In 2012, Hice published the book “It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America,” in which he argued that America is a “distinctly Christian society.” And, he wrote that if we wanted to “reclaim America,” then we needed to ban abortion, ban same-sex marriage, repeal hate-crime laws, and expose “radical Islam for the clear and present danger that it is.”
But Hice’s extreme religious views don’t stop there. In a 2004 article uncovered by the folks over at Right Wing Watch, Hice argues that women should have to receive permission from their husbands before running for political office. He said that, “If the woman’s within the authority of her husband, I don’t see a problem.”
While Hice’s extreme far-right religious and political views may be appalling, dated and incredibly ignorant, they’re nothing new for America. That’s because the views of the Christian hard-right in America today can be traced all the way back to when the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. Back in the 1600’s in England, many British citizens, including the Puritans, were fed up with what they saw as a degenerate society.
In response, between 1620 and 1640, nearly 20,000 English Puritans left the "vice" they faced in England behind, and colonized Massachusetts. The Puritans in the UK were led by a man named Oliver Cromwell, a strict Puritan military and political leader at the time, who, back in England in the late 1640’s, led an uprising against the Stewards, the royal family.
In 1653, after successfully beating back King Charles I and the royal family, Cromwell made himself the 1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. With those powers, Cromwell pushed his strictly Puritan religious beliefs on the rest of the British people. Cromwell banned sports. He banned women from wearing make-up. He banned colorful dresses. He even played the role of Scrooge and banned Christmas.
Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, the new Puritan settlers were also making their extreme religious beliefs known. They created laws that banned women from wearing lace, and that established what kinds of dresses a woman could wear. And they had laws that made it a crime for people not to attend church. In fact, you could be fined, imprisoned, and even whipped and tortured for not going to church.
Meanwhile, females who were considered “loose women” or who cheated on their husbands faced severe punishments, including imprisonment, public shamings, torture, and even death. The Puritan-led Massachusetts Bay General Court declared adultery a capital crime - punishable by death - in 1631, and they enforced it, at least against women.
Basically, the Puritans fled what they perceived as "secular wickedness" in England, and came to Massachusetts and created their own system of religious wickedness. And any settler who dared to go against Puritan beliefs was kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Puritans also didn’t have much tolerance for the Native Americans who already called America home. On May 26, 1637, Puritans, with the help from the Mohegan Tribe, attacked a Pequot Tribe village in Mystic, Connecticut, killing approximately 500 men, women, and children.
The religious intolerance, violence and oppression in Puritan-controlled Massachusetts was so horrific for so long, that not only did it drive Benjamin Franklin out of Massachusetts, but some 170 years after the Puritans first arrived, Massachusetts was forced to change its laws and its constitution, before other states would consider allowing it into the United States.
It may be 2014, but the religious extremism and oppression that the Puritans brought with them to America in 1620 is alive and well today. It’s alive and well in people like Jody Hice, and other so-called "Christian" hard-righters, who still think that women should be subservient to men and that only Christians should participate in our government.
Americans are rightly horrified by the religious extremism of groups like ISIS and the Taliban in the Middle East, but the fact is, religious extremism is also a very real threat right here and right now in the U.S. And our history proves that, if religious extremists and religious hard-righters are allowed to get in positions of power, the results are pretty ugly.