Questions about whether the United States is a Christian nation and if governing requires the separation of church and state are as old as the country itself.


In my previous life as the Casper Star-Tribune’s opinion editor, I was fascinated by this ongoing debate in the letters to the editor section. Readers regularly traded pre-Revolutionary War quotes about our founders’ intentions versus what actually made it into our Constitution. They always viewed the issue as black-and-white; neither side acknowledged any merit to the other’s arguments. 

What sparked my memories of this conflict was a recent New York Times op-ed by Susan Stubson of Casper, a member of the Star-Tribune’s editorial board. In “What Christian nationalism has done to my state and my faith is a sin,” Stubson examined what’s behind the ideological upheaval in the Republican Party, nationally and in the Equality State.

“Christian nationalists have hijacked both my Republican Party and my faith community by blurring the lines between church and government and in the process rebranding our state’s identity,” Stubson wrote.

Christian nationalism is the belief that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that our laws, regulations and government policies should reflect the Christian faith — or at least the interpretation of the Christian faith held by those espousing Christian nationalism. While Stubson’s concerns with this ideology are legitimate, I want to explore how we got here and why things will get worse unless traditional conservatives retake the GOP’s reins. 

Like many other progressive political observers, I am guilty of blaming former President Donald Trump and his unlikely connection to the religious right for the faction’s current outsized influence and its propensity for gaining power by fomenting fear. It didn’t start with Trump, nor will it end whenever he leaves politics and is replaced by other, perhaps even more dangerous leaders, if you can imagine that.

In the modern political era, it began with President Ronald Reagan. Backed by conservative evangelicals, like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, who aligned with many of his beliefs, Reagan loudly opposed abortion and homosexuality.

Reagan “gleefully courted and ushered in the religious right into the White House and gave certain Christian leaders unprecedented access to the leader of the free world,” A.F. Alexander wrote in “Religious Right: The Biggest Threat to Democracy.” “Since Reagan, the religious right has continued to establish more footholds into the GOP. They continue to shape the Republican Party into what they want it to be.”

Sarah Posner, author of “God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters,” addressed the state of the GOP in 2009:

“Some elite Republicans are shocked, shocked, to discover the ugliness lurking in the party,” Posner wrote. “Figures from Peggy Noonan to Colin Powell cannot believe it! The party of the city on a hill is turning vulgar!”

Posner called the feigned surprise laughable, and it still is. Her analysis is an excellent summation of what the GOP has become and explains precisely where it’s at today.

“The only card left in the Republican deck is straight out of the religious right’s 30-year-old battle plan, which the GOP has warmly embraced since Reagan,” Posner wrote. “The Republican Party has validated the religious right’s mythology of Christian nationhood, cowed to its authoritarian litmus test, and made demagoguery not only fashionable but heroic.”

What does this mean for Wyoming, long one of the reddest states in the country? Its government policies have increasingly turned hard right since the 1990s after the Wyoming Supreme Court rejected at-large legislative districts in favor of single-member districts that essentially made all contests two-person races. 

Democrats previously had a chance to win at-large seats, particularly in large counties, since many were popular throughout entire House and Senate districts. But in a state where Republicans already had a significant majority of registered voters, the GOP’s dominance in the Legislature quickly increased. By 2022, it led to the election of only seven Democrats in the 93-member body. All were from Albany or Teton counties.

GOP lawmakers were successful in keeping new or higher taxes off the books, which isn’t a great surprise. But many of the signature issues of the religious right that were passed in neighboring states didn’t gain traction here.

The Wyoming Legislature didn’t pass further restrictions on abortion for nearly three decades until a few relatively minor bills were approved in 2017. While moves to pass anti-discrimination bills to protect LGBTQ rights went nowhere, measures like “bathroom bills” to keep transgender individuals out of public restrooms failed too.

But as evangelical Republicans gained power, the Legislature’s agenda shifted accordingly. Abortion bills were soon filed every session, and when the U.S. Supreme Court finally overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Wyoming lawmakers had already passed a “trigger” law that banned abortion with few exceptions.

Only lawsuits and the judicial branch have kept Wyoming women from completely losing their reproductive autonomy — for now. 

The Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a collection of state House representatives modeled after Congress’ anti-liberal fringe group, started organizing in 2020. Initially, its numbers were so low, and its members so feckless that the caucus couldn’t get any bills passed. But as its ranks grew, the track record improved. The national hot-button issues they pushed in 2022, like banning trans athletes from girls’ sports and banning “critical race theory” in classrooms where it’s not even taught, passed the Senate but couldn’t make it through the House.

That changed this year when Freedom Caucus membership in the House grew to 26 members who consistently voted as a bloc. The anti-trans bill passed, and the only thing standing in the way of measures against CRT and outlawing gender-affirming care was moderate House Speaker Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), who considered the Freedom Caucus’ prime objectives to be bad legislation.

Rep. John Bear (R-Gillete), the Freedom Caucus chairman and poster boy for Christian nationalism in the state Legislature, joined other members in assessing the group’s future in April. They said it will only take flipping 10 seats in the House now held by RINOs — “Republicans in Name Only” — for the group to take over the chamber in 2025. 

That’s doable, which should scare GOP moderates to death. Fortunately, by holding steady and joining the few House Democrats this year, the new  “Wyoming Caucus” kept the far-right contingent from passing the most extreme parts of its agenda, including banning LGBTQ-themed books from school and public libraries. That controversial wedge issue will not die anytime soon.

The Freedom Caucus is increasingly at ease using religious arguments against their opponents, like declaring women who choose abortion are murderers and Christians must step up to save innocent babies.  

It’s time for the conservative Republicans who helped defeat a 1992 constitutional amendment banning abortion in Wyoming to speak up again, and vote for pro-choice legislative candidates at the ballot box next year.

“Christians electing candidates who reflect godly values is a good thing,” Stubson wrote. “Yet Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with control.”

I think a coalition of limited-government traditional conservatives, with support from the few Democrats (and hopefully more) in the Legislature, can keep the Freedom Caucus from taking over. But those of us who are positive Christian nationalism will harm Wyomingites had better get our act together soon, or the long-term dreams of the religious right will soon be legislating its version of morality.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. John Adams said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Morality and virtue are the foundation of our republic and necessary for a society to be free.

  2. Just to accentuate what is taking place in this state, this morning’s Casper Star’s coverage of State Superintendent of Instruction Degenfelder’s sojourn this coming weekend to speak at a conference which can only be defined as a gathering of white Christian nationalists makes the point. Check who will be there; check out the title and theme for the conference; and check out the rationale for the conference.

  3. Actually, the movement originated not with Reagan, but with with Richard Nixon, as the phrase: “the moral majority” was created during his administration. He claimed the support of everyone who said nothing when he was in office by using that false claim.

  4. It’s always just a matter of time before the sensitive ones complain about being “censored”. It’s wyofile’s house. They are under no obligation to post anything that is outside their guidelines.

    Morality is not dependent on the presence of religion. Certainly not on Christianity.

    Which version, out of the hundreds, of christianity was the country built on? Does it happen to be the one you believe in?

  5. Since you selectively post comments to favor your position, I will try this:
    On what moral base do you propose that law and the Constitution are built upon? What moral guide told them that private property was to be protected, individual rights upheld, that we weren’t to kill, steal, bear false witness, etc? Was it Islam? Morality pulled out of thin air by the Enlightened? If God and Christianity had no influence, then why do we bother to respect others’ persons, property, or rights? What moral system pushed to end slavery? Do you seek Stalinism, Chinese Communism, Nazism, Facism, all of which sought to eradicate Christianity as you want to do? Without religious values, there is nothing else to say anything is moral, right, or wrong.

    1. Only two of the Ten Commandments made it into our legal code. A 20% inclusion rate does not seem a convincing argument that our morals are based on religion. There are many of us who do not need a book to tell us right from wrong. Our morality is hard wired into our guts. Don’t hurt people, be honest, don’t steal, try to help, be kind … these are the traits of good people across religions, geography and time.

    2. Gosh how did all those humans survive before the goat herders guide to the galaxy was produced? The idea that christianity is the only guardrail for human morality says much more about you than humanity.

      The Founders and much of America understood that the combination of State power with Religious power resulted in costly and wasteful wars as well as taking away rights from one group to appease the supposed word of a god. The founding of the USA changed that dynamic, but in doing so the most recent iteration of so-called citizens have forgotten that lesson.

      You have every right to believe in a magical sky god that makes pronouncements that you seek to interpret, but you have no right to shove those lies into my life. We won the galactic lottery as we are the only known sentient beings that can opine on the universe; yet we are throwing that lottery ticket away because some think the next life will be better! In a sane world hearing voices or believing in magic would be cause for a sanity check.

      1. “… goat herders guide to the galaxy…”

        Outstanding, not to mention, apropos.

    3. Do you really believe that these moral and ethical guides were invented by the writers of the Bible (whoever they were)? Read Hammurabi’s Code which pre-dates the earliest parts of the Bible by centuries.
      “Christianity neither is, nor ever was part of the common law.” -Thomas Jefferson

      1. Where do you propose that moral standards came from? Why should anyone obey any law that corresponds with a biblical teaching? Why not kill? Why not steal? What or whom do you fear? If it is forbidden in the Bible then you should not be bound by it according to your argument. I cannot seem to question your beliefs without raising your ire, but you feel free to attack and disparage the beliefs of anyone you see fit, and belittle and insult the God they believe in. Your “hard wired in your guts morality” is defined as the Natural Law, that throughout history has been defined as the law written on man’s heart by his Creator. Glad you admitted that friend.

        1. I am not disparaging anyone’s beliefs, but simply pointing out that the Bible is not the origin of morals or ethics, and is not the source for our nation’s constitution or common law. U.S. common law is based on English common law which is pagan Anglo-Saxon in origin.
          The founders of our nation made it clear that the United States is not founded on any religious dogma.

        2. “Where do you propose that moral standards came from?”

          Moral standards were developed from the evolution of man, one more thing that the religious fringe don’t believe in…

  6. Let’s see what our nation’s founders had to say on the subject:

    “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” -John Adams
    “The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.” -John Adams

    “Christianity neither is, nor ever was part of the common law.” -Thomas Jefferson

    “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” -James Madison

    “Christianity is the most perverted system ever shone on man.” -Thomas Jefferson

    I will conclude by stating Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” should be required reading in American high schools.

  7. One of the most powerful sentences in all American Literature comes from Mark Twain in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck said, “You can’t pray a lie.” Religious conservatives continue to try, but apparently they have been captured by the wrong diety and they prayers are being answered in a place where the climate is warmer–much warmer.

  8. American was founded on Christian principles with out a doubt. Liberal atheists continue to challange that. Movement is coming to Wyoming so it can be more like Seattle/Chicago/NYC and my favorite Gary, Indiana. All role models for the blue dream

    1. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” is from the First Amendment. That is the only time the word “religion” is mentioned in the Constitution. Obviously, it certainly isn’t stopping states and the Judicial from circumventing the intent of the Constitution by passing and enforcing laws based upon their religion, such as freedom of choice (Dobbs), “Don’t say Gay”, book bans, mandatory displays of the ten commandments, laws directly affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, laws preventing the teaching of America’s true and factual racial history, laws allowing religious clergy from performing ceremonies based upon their religious prejudices, etc.

      Our country’s founders — who were of different religious backgrounds themselves — knew the best way to protect religious liberty was to keep the government out of religion. So, they created the First Amendment — to guarantee the separation of church and state. This fundamental freedom is a major reason why the U.S. has managed to avoid a lot of the religious conflicts that have torn so many other nations apart and when/if religious zealots take over more power in our government, will likely continue to tear our country apart. Can you imagine your response, if sometime in the future, Muslims, for example, became the majority religion and attempted to force their beliefs upon you? I certainly believe it is in the best interest of our country if Christians stop trying to legislate their beliefs on the rest of non-Christian America- (and the world).

      1. This clause was clearly intended to prevent the government from establishing any single religion as the “official “ religion of the country. It did not in any way preclude those who profess any religion from participating in government or public discourse. You cannot exclude people from participating in government or public discourse because they profess a belief in God or Jesus Christ, even if this website tries to. Any lawyer will affirm this. The left, that is so good at manipulating terminology, will try to convince people that their views are disqualified if they are of any religious faith, but we all have the right for our ideas to compete as yours do in public discussions.

        1. I don’t believe that I said that just because you profess some religion you cannot participate in government. That would be nonsense. What I stated was that I don’t believe it is right for anyone in or out of politics to try to force their beliefs on anyone else.

      2. Excellent points Lee. America was founded by people fleeing religious persecution in England and Europe. That’s why our constitution guarantees us freedom from religion.

  9. Like most things the GOP accuses others of, they are doing themselves – just as they accuse the Democrats of having this “shadow government”, yet if you look into the Council for National Policy founded in 1981 – it is scary how much influence they have had on GOP lawmakers and this country (and others). As usual, follow the money and in this case it’s a small group of ultra conservative billionaires pushing their agenda. They financed the GOP political machine to do their bidding, bought up right wing media, and used the manpower of the right wing
    Evangelical Christians to fire up “the base” and play them like a fiddle against their own best interest.

  10. “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is a force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
    George Washington

  11. Ms. Stubson’s well written article to take the blinders off our eyes and realize that ‘christian’ Nationalists don’t act in a Christian fashion was on point. She revealed their well worn scheme to garner political dominance while hiding behind a religious facade. I think it’s past time to prove your faith before you shove it into public discourse. Here’s how: release your Income Tax Return and Church Tithe Statements for the past 10 years. If you’re not tithing 10% of your gross income (Malachi 3:10), then you’re not following biblical principles and just forfeited your claim to religious righteousness. Time to reveal all the wolves wearing lamb blankets.

    1. Thanks for shedding light on this issue Kerry.
      The far right GOP politicians have simply learned how to manipulate voter’s minds with their phony God fearing rhetoric. The non religious Donald Trump learned quickly how to make religion his backbone for pure political gain – and the extreme religious sheep fell right in line. So many in our country are vulnerable to loudly outspoken fear mongers guiding them towards destroying our democracy.
      Hmmmm? – sounds kinda like the 1930s in Germany.

  12. Born, educated, joined the U.S. Army while living in Wyoming then moved to Colorado. Because of the negative political climate ruling Wyoming will never return.

  13. The syncretism of “Christianity” and “nationalism” is a far stretch from Christianity as well as the intent of our fore-father’s nation building efforts. “Taking Back America for God” is great book on Christian Nationalism based on a 2017 Baylor Religion Survey. In great detail, it echoes what you have outlined. Great article Kerry!