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The Establishment Clause Can Defeat Wokeism

The following op-ed by ACEK advisor Bruce Abramson was originally published at The Epoch Times. For decades, forces unfriendly to religion have used the Constitution’s separation of church and state to minimize the influence of traditional faiths—particularly […]

The following op-ed by ACEK advisor Bruce Abramson was originally published at The Epoch Times.

For decades, forces unfriendly to religion have used the Constitution’s separation of church and state to minimize the influence of traditional faiths—particularly Christianity—in public life. Americans holding a more favorable view of tradition might now consider taking a page from their playbook to defeat the new religion of Wokeism.

Wokeism is everywhere. It’s spoon-fed to children in K-12 schools. Employers subject employees to HR seminars on critical race theory (CRT) and related ideas. California alone spent an estimated $500 million of public funds pushing so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) ideology through government agencies.

Americans are forcibly immersed in Wokeism—and paying for it with their tax dollars—whether they like it or not.

That can change with the right strategy: First, lay the intellectual background to recognize Wokeism as a religion. Next, enshrine that recognition in law. Finally, use the Establishment Clause to push Wokeism to the periphery of the public sphere.

What makes Wokeism a religion—and not “mere” ideology?

Many Woke teachings are unobservable and untestable. Consider perhaps the three clearest examples: People can declare their own gender. Systemic racism is a pervasive evil. Apocalyptic climate change is imminent. Nothing to see. Nothing to test. No proof is needed. Nothing can be disproved.

Unobservable, untestable, unfalsifiable beliefs provide a decent definition of “articles of faith.” That’s why the Woke scream and hide when anyone questions their beliefs rather than trying to engage in persuasion. Science is subject to demonstration and persuasion; faith is not. Only the faithful bristle against those who question their fundamental beliefs.

Yet the religious aspects of Wokeism run still deeper, from sin (various “isms” and “phobias”) and forgiveness (becoming an “ally”) through Anthony Fauci and Ruth Bader Ginsburg prayer candles and George Floyd shrines to the Woke end-times story of apocalyptic manmade climate change.

So what? After all, even if Wokeism is a faith-driven belief system, is that enough to make it a “religion” under the Constitution?

Believe it or not, no one knows. The Supreme Court has considered whether people who don’t belong to a recognized religion warrant the protections of the Free Exercise Clause—most clearly on behalf of non-churchgoing conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.

In those cases, the Court took a generous view of “religion” as a deeply held set of beliefs—certainly broad enough to include Wokeism. The Court’s rulings, however, have been few, far between, and largely incoherent. The Court has never considered whether the imposition of specific, unscientific, ideological opinions violates the separation of church and state.

Yet there’s a very simple principle that the Courts could—and should—apply. It goes back to junior high school lessons about the difference between “fact” and “opinion.” An assertion is an opinion if it describes something that isn’t subject to observation, testing, or hypothesizing.

Any insistence that an opinion be accepted as truth—or that only the hateful might question its implications—elevates that opinion to an article of faith. When a government entity champions such elevation and imposition, it’s establishing a faith—and violating the constitution.

Thus, it’s unobjectionable for public schools to teach that many Woke believe that a boy can be a girl—just as it’s unobjectionable to teach that many Christians believe that the Communion wafer and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ. Neither belief belongs in a science class.

Can such an attack on imposed Wokeism work?

There’s an excellent and winnable legal case to be made—but it will take work to win it. It’s an opportunity for traditionalists to shape a new body of law. All they have to do is turn the successful atheist and anti-Christian lawsuits on their heads. When your opponents have developed a winning strategy, the smart move is to learn from it.

Traditionalists should consider suing public schools forcing Wokeism on children, employers seeking Woke purity in the workforce, and governments spending money to elevate Woke pieties above those of above other faiths. If the courts rightly recognize Wokeism as a religion, Americans who want no part of this new system of ethics and beliefs will be empowered to protect themselves.

A 2016 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 25 percent of all Americans described their religion as “none.” Maybe, but human nature hasn’t stopped searching for higher meaning. For much of that 25 percent, new faiths like Wokeism proved cover while they pretend that they have rejected faith. What they’ve really done is exchange the pastoral metaphors of the old-time religions with the quasi-scientific jargon they prefer.

Americans have at least as much right to reject Woke theology as the theology of any traditional religion.  The Constitution guarantees it. It’s time to start getting that guarantee clarified.

Bruce Abramson

Bruce Abramson

Bruce Abramson has over thirty years of experience working as a technologist, economist, attorney, and policy analyst. Dr. Abramson holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Columbia and a J.D. from Georgetown. He has contributed to the scholarly literature on computing, business, economics, law, and foreign policy, and written extensively about American politics and policy.