Among the many shocking, sickening images captured during the attempted takeover of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday was a selfie tweeted by former Pennsylvania State Representative Rick Saccone, a man the Freedom From Religion Foundation once sued to rein in his extremism.
Saccone not only tweeted his photo in front of the Capitol during the melee saying “We are storming the Capitol,” but posted video (now taken down but confirmed by media) saying:
“I’m telling you we have hundreds of thousands of people here to support our president and save our nation. Are you with me? They broke down the gates. They’re macing them up there. We’re trying to run out all the evil people in there and all the RINOs who have betrayed our president. We’re going to run them out of their offices.”
Saccone later excused himself by saying he hadn’t joined the mobs going inside and that his rhetoric was a “figure of speech.” But he has since resigned his position at Vincent College in Pennsylvania and may be under FBI investigation.
FFRF knew Saccone was a loose cannon when we encountered the proclamation he sponsored in the Pennsylvania House declaring 2012 as “The Year of the Bible.” So did our indignant Pennsylvania membership, who begged FFRF to file suit on behalf of our then-599 state members, including 41 named members and our chapter at the time, Nittany Freethought. The resolution claimed the bible was the “word of God” and falsely asserted that “biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government.”
Our legal complaint noted: “FFRF's membership includes individuals residing in Pennsylvania who have had direct and unwanted exposure to the Year of the Bible Resolution and the hostile environment created thereby as a result of the official declaration of a state religion by the Pennsylvania Legislature.” Members included “individuals [who] oppose governmental speech endorsing religion because they are made to feel as if they are political outsiders.”
We knew it would be hard to stay in court over the challenge of the resolution, having cut our legal teeth on a highly-publicized suit against President Ronald Reagan when he declared 1983 “The Year of the Bible.”
But we knew it was essential to complain and make a fuss, because we also know that any Establishment Clause violation that goes unchallenged creates precedent for more, often worse entanglements. We knew Saccone was a zealot who should not be sitting in a Capitol making decisions on citizens’ lives.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner ultimately dismissed the case, as expected, ruling House officials had legislative immunity. But we knew we had won a moral and educational victory when the judge soundly chastised House officials for "premeditated pandering" and expressed alarm that the resolution passed unanimously.
Conner wrote: "At worst, it is premeditated pandering designed to provide a reelection sound bite for use by members of the General Assembly. But regardless of the motivation . . . its express language is proselytizing and exclusionary. . . . The court is compelled to shine a clear, bright light on this resolution because it pushes the Establishment Clause envelope behind the safety glass of legislative immunity."
There can’t be a better way to get kicked out of court on standing than by winning such a deserved reprimand against the defendant.
But our lawsuit was thrown out, so Saccone felt secure in using his civil office to force his bigoted and extremist views on all state citizens. Backed by Christian reconstructionist author David Barton, he fortunately lost his bid in 2018 to become a member of Congress.
Should anyone be surprised that Rick Saccone, with his fanatical and un-American views, turned up at a Proud Boy riot smirking as he documented an attempted coup of our secular republic?
FFRF’s Pennsylvania legal complaint had recycled the striking wording of FFRF founder Anne Gaylor in the 1983 Reagan challenge saying: The bible “contains violent, sexist and racist models of behavior that FFRF members find personally repugnant, and which potentially could encourage persons who rely on them to act in a manner harmful to them and others.” The unchecked Year of the Bible resolution did indeed encourage Saccone “to act in a manner harmful to others.”