In this article, journalist Kathi Valeii interviews author Katherine Stewart about the Evangelical attack on public schools. Stewart is the author of a powerful book, “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

Stewart has shown how Evangelicals insert the “Good News Clubs” into public schools to proselytize.

Here is a quote from the interview:

“KV: In your book, you use the word “Christian Nationalist” to describe the people working to infiltrate the public school system with conversion-style programs. In the current political climate, this language feels particularly relevant. Why do you think this language choice is important?

“KS: Christian nationalism has been around for a couple centuries. But starting in the 1970s it took on a new and much more virulent form. Many people saw it coming. I think of Michelle Goldberg’s 2006, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, a prescient look at the development of politicized evangelical religion. Other writers before her, such as Frederick Clarkson, who wrote Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, have been on the case even longer.

“But many others have until recently downplayed the rise of Christian Nationalism as merely a “cultural” phenomenon, or a manifestation of certain social attitudes. I believe that this is in part because the discussion of religion and politics is, frankly, awkward. It would be a much nicer world if we could simply allow one another to carry on in our personal beliefs and approach policy questions without regard to that private world.

“Today, however, a certain variety of politicized religion in America wants to rewrite our history, upend our constitutional principles, and take us “back” to a time that never actually existed. We can no longer afford to ignore it. With the rise of Trump, I think we can say definitively that Christian Nationalism is first and foremost a political ideology. It is deeply authoritarian, it is determined, and it has put the future of democracy in peril.

“When Christian Nationalists say they wish to “take our country back,” they are not being hyperbolic; they are being honest. They have told us that they abhor our public schools, and that they pray for the day such schools cease to exist. Leaders of Christian Nationalists’ judicial strategy have told us that they want to eradicate the “so-called’ wall of separation between church and state, and that the time has come to return our schools to the Lord. They are telling us what they really think, and we should listen to them now, before it is too late.

“KV: The last chapter of your book is titled, “If you can’t own it break it.” You explain the paradox of of the Christian Right’s desires to be actively involved in the public schools and simultaneously dismantle them, which basically also sums up the position of Education Secretary Betsy Devos. How do you see her leadership role affecting the further erosion of the practical separation of church and state in our public schools?

“KS: Betsy DeVos has historically funded two things with equal generosity: the religious right on the one hand, and the privatization efforts of public education on the other. The reason for that is straightforward: she, like many members of the extreme end of the conservative movement, believes in both economic libertarianism and religious fundamentalism, and she sees them as being grounded in each other and mutually reinforcing. The idea is that if you turn schools over to to the genuinely “free market,” they will inculcate the “correct” religious values in students. And there won’t be a need to worry about the separation of church and state, because they will be the same thing.

“The astonishing thing about DeVos is just how much contempt she exudes for the public schools that she is charged with overseeing. When Trump insulted “our failing government schools,” you can be sure that the sentiment chimed with her own beliefs. She rarely loses an opportunity to say that the system isn’t working, that the schools are failing, that they are losing ground, and so on. She seems to make a point of minimizing contact with the people most closely connected with traditional public schools. On a recent visit to Florida, she was criticized for visiting a private school, a charter school, and a voucher school, but no traditional public schools. This attitude is a clear prelude to destructive policy moves.”