Doug Mastriano and some Pa. GOP leaders think Christianity and government should be linked

Mastriano, a state appellate judge, and other figures used a rally about William Penn this summer to voice Christian nationalist views

  • Sam Dunklau

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), the Republican 2022 gubernatorial nominee, addresses a crowd gathered for a rally celebrating William Penn in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Harrisburg on July 1 2022.

Sam Dunklau / WITF

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), the Republican 2022 gubernatorial nominee, addresses a crowd gathered for a rally celebrating William Penn in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Harrisburg on July 1 2022.

As state budget talks dragged on last month, a dozen Republican lawmakers gathered in front of a seated crowd in the state Capitol rotunda. They talked about Pennsylvania’s founding father, William Penn, and signed a proclamation celebrating his legacy.

They talked about how religion influenced the 17th century Quaker – and that they believe he wanted Christianity and government to mix. People like State Senator Cris Dush (R-Cameron) have referenced the great law of pennsylvaniaPenn’s framework of government written in 1682.

“It makes it clear that Penn intended to bring his religion into his government and give the people as much freedom as possible,” Dush said.

Each time the point was raised, the crowd of about a hundred cheered.

They cheered the loudest when Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) rose to speak. As the GOP candidate for governor, Mastriano fused his religious beliefs into his campaign message.

Sam Dunklau / WITF

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), the Republican 2022 gubernatorial nominee, greets members of a crowd gathered for a rally celebrating William Penn in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Harrisburg on 1 July 2022.

He pointed to the link as he spoke. Mastriano said he saw parallels between Penn’s life and his own, saying both had been persecuted for their faith.

“William Penn landed in jail many times for his faith. He was mocked in the media, ridiculed, lambasted, as we see today,” Mastriano said.

Penn was arrested and acquitted in 1670 for preaching about Quakerism in a London street. Many in the English government despised the Quakers at the time, believing that their principles violated social norms.

Mastriano has never been arrested or imprisoned – but his amplification of false claims about the 2020 elections and his movement in front of the police lines in the January 6 attack have come under scrutiny.

Mastriano later incorporated his “Walk as Free People” campaign slogan as he criticized the media for “castigating” his supporters’ belief system. He provided no evidence for his claim.

“They give us adjectives that don’t suit people who just live their way. They want to walk like free men and women. It was William Penn’s dream,” he said.

The state senator did not take questions from reporters after the event and did not respond to a separate request for comment.

A growing number of Republican lawmakers across the country are calling for Christianity to be explicitly tied to government business. We went so far as to say the separation of church and state in the US Constitution should not exist.

In Pennsylvania, the idea that religion should be part of government has spread beyond Republican lawmakers. Mastriano, Dush and the others were joined at last month rally by a sitting judge of the Commonwealth Court, Patricia McCullough.

Senate Republican Communications Office / via

This screenshot shows Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough delivering a speech at a rally honoring William Penn at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on July 1, 2022.

She spoke with the crowd about Sir William Blackstone, an 18th-century English jurist who is still cited by United States Supreme Court justices as Clarence Thomas in the cases.

black stone was a controversial figure in his days. As a member of the British Parliament, he supported things like the Stamp Act, which was condemned by people like Thomas Jefferson.

McCullough, former Head of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, summarizes Blackstone’s legal theory:

“Blackstone taught that all law is based on natural lawand natural law is based on the divine law of God, and that any law that does not conform to those laws is not valid law,” McCullough said before leading the crowd in prayer.

Messiah University history professor John Fea has studied the larger political movement at play: Christian nationalism. The movement, defined as the belief that America is defined by Christianity and that the government should keep it that way, has grown in prominence in recent years. The scholars say it’s been around for a while.

Fea said Mastriano and other speakers used talking points from this movement.

“They believe that America is somehow drifting away from its Christian roots, its Christian foundation, as they understand it,” Fea said.

Many of America’s founding fathers were actually deists, who believe in experiencing God through nature – rather than just religion. Fea said Christian nationalism does not always reflect this.

“It’s built on a flawed view of American history,” he said. “They tend to ignore how the country has changed over 250 years.”

Using figures like William Penn to support this political platform creates what Fea calls “usable history”.

“If you can get the foundation on your side… you can move the political dial in any direction you want,” Fea said, “because you can show people that we’ve gone astray as a nation in some ways. ”

Near the end of his speech that day in July, Mastriano imagined what Penn would think if he were alive today.

“I think William Penn would be proud of what our country has become in so many ways, but we have a long way to go and we have lost our way in so many parts of our country,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking that we’ve fallen so low in so many areas.”

Sam Dunklau / WITF

A crowd listens to speakers deliver speeches about William Penn during a rally honoring Pennsylvania’s founder in the state capitol rotunda in Harrisburg on July 1, 2022.

But the union of religion and governance can lead to potential conflicts of interest. That an appeals judge spoke at an event laden with political pronouncements struck legal ethics experts as unusual.

Temple University professor emeritus Eleanor Myers said the presence of Commonwealth Court Justice McCullough raises questions about whether she could adjudicate fairly in all cases involving religion.

“The rules require you to be impartial and act fairly to all parties,” Myers said.

Rule 3-7 of Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges are entitled to and may speak about their religious beliefs. That’s exactly what McCullough did as he prayed “in the name of Jesus Christ” at the end of his speech last month.

But the rule warns that any activity like this must not “diminish” or “interfere” with judicial functions. That’s why when judges like McCullough speak publicly, they have to consider the context.

“Inviting a statewide political candidate, who was clearly going and was allowed to give a purely political speech, potentially should have given the judge pause,” said attorney Robert Tintner, who helps run ethical issues for the Philadelphia Bar Association Professional Guidance Committee. .

Both Tintner and Myers said there was a small chance McCullough’s future cases would be affected by the speech.

“If I was Jewish, which I am, if I was Muslim, if I was religious, and there was a case to be brought to court that involved these things, I would be concerned about whether it might or might not be right,” Myers said. said.

“I think there are people who would assume that she was reinforcing certain political positions.”

Sam Dunklau / WITF

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough leads a crowd in Christian prayer at a rally celebrating William Penn at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on July 1, 2022.

Given that religion influenced William Penn, experts said it was appropriate to talk about it at the Capitol event. Fea said that, like many founding fathers, Penn expressed his belief in God in much of his writing.

But there is a caveat.

“These founders lived in an 18th century world where Christianity was the only game in town. Some of them were thinking well ahead of when this country might be more religiously diverse,” Fea said.

Penn himself did it a law in the Charter of Privileges of 1701 that only those “who profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world” could serve in government. But he also wrote that no Pennsylvanian would be punished for practicing his “conscientious persuasion or practice,” which was unusual at the time.

Fea notes that this rule applied even to those who were not Christians.

“What would William Penn think of a candidate trying to promote a Christian nation? Fea asked, pointing to Mastriano.

“I think he would clearly reject that because it would violate religious freedoms and freedom of conscience, as Penn said, of everyone.”

Mastriano in particular has set the standard for Republican candidates this fall, and religion is a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign. He has talked about it several times in appearances and in videos on social media.

As recently as last weekend, he told voters that in Pennsylvania, anyone can “believe whatever they want.” But his campaign slogan, rooted in a biblical verse, speaks directly to those who share his beliefs.

Mastriano’s nightly victory party featured an evangelical Christian worship service. In a speech that night, the GOP hopeful told his supporters that God “chooses people like you and me to change history.”

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