When Christian Nationalists Control the Court: A Review of American Crusade

When Christian Nationalists Control the Court: A Review of American Crusade

If I could summarize Andrew Seidel’s new book American Crusade: How the Supreme Court is Weaponizing Religious Freedom in one word, I would say it is difficult. At times it is difficult to comprehend due to legal jargon (even after the author purposely trimmed the fat, so to speak) but it is immensely difficult to stomach. This was a book I had to read slowly and take plenty of breaks from. It wasn’t a fun book, and it wasn’t intended to be.

Before I dive into the review, I must share a bit of a disclaimer. Andrew Seidel is actually my boss. You might think I’d be tempted to suck up in reviewing his book, but I will not be doing that. I bought this book myself, and I’m reviewing it because it’s the kind of book I review. I will be as impartial as I was of Seidel’s last book and indeed as I am of every book I review. If it’s good, you’ll know. If it’s bad, well, you’ll know that, too.

What is American Crusade?

American Crusade, while difficult, is a very straightforward book. It tells you exactly what it is: a chronicle of how the Supreme Court (specifically John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett) is weaponizing “religious freedom” to write Christian supremacy into law.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021, including now-retired Justice Stephen Breyer.
Erin Schaff/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Seidel spends the book (and the crucial 60-page addendum) exposing exactly how the following Supreme Court cases forge the shield of religious freedom into a Christian supremacist weapon:

  • Davis v. Ermold (chapter 4)
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (chapter 5)
  • Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (chapter 6)
  • Trump v. Hawaii (chapter 7)
  • Employment Division v. Smith (chapter 8)
  • Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (chapter 10)
  • American Legion v. American Humanist Association (chapter 12)
  • Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (chapter 13)
  • Espinoza v. the Montana Department of Revenue (chapter 14)
  • Fulton v. Philadelphia (chapter 16)
  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (More AC)
  • Carson v. Makin (More AC)
  • Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (More AC)

Before reading American Crusade, I could almost sort of see both sides of the few of these cases I’d heard of. (Masterpiece Cakeshop, Hobby Lobby, Trinity Lutheran Church, Fulton, Bremerton.) But Seidel makes it crystal clear that there are no two sides. Actually, the sides of true vs. perverted concepts of religious liberty live squarely on opposite sides of only three lines.

The three lines of religious freedom

Seidel lays out these three lines of religious freedom in chapter 3, and they are the bedrock of the entire book. (And of all religious freedom cases.) If and when you read this book, I encourage you to pause on chapter 3 and try your best to memorize what each line is. It’ll make reading the rest of the book easier.

To understand religious freedom, we must understand three basic lines. First, we distinguish between belief and action. Your right to believe is absolute; your right to act on that belief is not. Second, we draw a line between actions that can and should be regulated, even if religiously motivated, and those that shouldn’t. If your action harms someone else or impacts their rights, it can be regulated, regardless of religious motivation. Third, we draw a line between government power and personal religion; you don’t get to use the machinery of the state to amplify or impose your religion.

These lines cut through the maze of religious freedom cases and provide clear solutions to issues that are often much simpler than the Crusaders and the court make out.

Andrew Seidel, American Crusade, p. 37

Using section headings, Seidel titles the lines as “Line #1: Action vs. Belief,” “Line #2: The Rights of Others,” and “Line #3: State and Church.” I can’t overstate how imperative it is to learn Lines 2 and 3 and keep them in your back pocket at all times, whether you’re reading American Crusade or just trying to live as a free citizen.

Weaponizing religious freedom

The three lines of religious liberty are not the only common theme of American Crusade. Seidel hammers home the fact that the court is weaponizing religious freedom through the entire book. He uses some version of the phrase “weaponizing religious freedom” 63 times in the 318 total pages of the physical book and the postscript, or on average once every five pages. (But who’s counting?)

This is no lazy repetition; rather it is acutely intentional. The repetition of “weaponizing religious freedom” is the thread that ties together the 15 cases Seidel explores. It’s a constant reminder that Christian nationalists are using religious freedom as a scapegoat when infringing on nearly every aspect of people’s lives. This thread that binds American Crusade shows that this corrupted concept of religious freedom has stopped people from being able to do such noncontroversial (or even boring) things as:

  • planning a wedding
  • getting a day off work
  • getting a marriage license
  • playing football
  • adopting a child
  • attending a functioning public school
  • legally immigrating
  • practicing safe sex
  • not getting Covid
  • receiving healthcare
  • literally just driving down the highway.
The Bladensburg Cross as seen from the highway into Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
Adelle M. Banks

This book is critical. I can’t emphasize this enough. Have a “fun” book handy for when you inevitably need to put down American Crusade, but read this from start to finish. And then read the online section. (Don’t sleep on that! Bremerton is the paramount case of the Crusade, and Seidel is the expert on all things Kennedy v. Bremerton.)

Legalese and expertise

Seidel is actually probably the expert on all things relating to church/state (or as he purposely says, state/church) separation in the courts. In this book, it shows. He does his best to avoid legal jargon, and I appreciate that. But as a total law novice, I felt myself falling behind here. Even jargon-lite as it was, I still ended up reading sentences or paragraphs of American Crusade over, and over, and over again. If you’re not used to reading about law, keep this in mind as you read.

There’s a plus side to this complex writing: American Crusade deals in Seidel’s area of expertise. Not that he isn’t well-read on the topics he wrote about in The Founding Myth, but American Crusade comes straight out of Seidel’s life work as an attorney. The Founding Myth was about the Founding Fathers, the origins of Christian American verbiage, and largely about the Bible—and the Ten Commandments in particular. American Crusade focuses more on what is happening now, and more importantly, what will happen next.

The atheist and the bible

As I’ve been following (and joining) Seidel’s work on church/state separation and his factual analyses of the erosion of religious liberty, it’s been easy to forget that he himself is still the passionate atheist that wrote The Founding Myth. He’s totally justified, of course; the entire point of religious freedom is that you should be just as free to be an ardent atheist as you are to be a conservative Christian.

After reading what Seidel has researched about these Christian nationalists and their literal discrimination of everyone else, I can’t blame him. Just keep in mind that Christians reading might find themselves offended by some of what he says about the uncapitalized Bible or their uncapitalized god. (He explains why he doesn’t capitalize these terms in The Founding Myth, but not in American Crusade.) I can only hope that this doesn’t stop his arguments from reaching and resonating with at least a moderate (though obviously not conservative) Christian audience.

Yes, American Crusade is difficult. It’s long and it’s dense. But I cannot emphasize its value enough. If you have any motivation to stop the Christian nationalist Crusade that’s happening right now in the United States (and you should), then you must read this book.

What do you think?