Sen. Allen’s fear-mongering about immigrants, feminism, a symptom of politicized white Christianity

Image by Kathy Drasky | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In a now-infamous speech at an event “commemorating Mormon political pioneers,” Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, railed against such woes as the “browning of America,” and the lack of assimilation among immigrants that will make America “look very much like South American countries very quickly.”

Though the shift in conversation away from legal immigration status to the more explicit (and honest) rallying cry against Arizona’s increasing racial diversity may fail to shock us in the Trump era, we cannot ignore her comments any more than we can ignore the identity politics that make them so dangerously effective.

That’s right, identity politics.

And not in the way that the phrase is used to negate the stories of people who speak out against lived injustices.

Allen’s rhetoric brilliantly mingles the nationalistic, religious, and racial identities of her target audience to cast the “other” as an existential threat. She made the comments at an event centered on the historical influence of Mormonism in Arizona and made use of secularists and feminists as handy punching bags right alongside Arizona’s immigrant population.

“Our boys are struggling to know how to be men. This feminist movement is not doing favors for us, at all,” she said, reiterating her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. “What’s really hurting society is the decline of the patriarchy.”

She can apologize all she wants that some Arizonans took the “browning of America” to be a racially charged phrase. Disentangling it from the theocratizing tendencies that she invokes to validate her message would be difficult nonetheless. She casts secularism as one of the many threats to her vision of America, and rightly so. To embrace the religious diversity of Arizona, including its humanists, atheists, and other nonbelievers, would take away one of the essential ingredients to the faith, family and freedom cocktail that conjures the reactionary nostalgia that makes her policy agenda possible.

The threat to a white and patriarchal America cannot be separated from the threat to a Christian theocratic America.

Allen isn’t alone in scapegoating secular Americans, or, for that matter, Americans outside conservative Christianity. Take Gov. Doug Ducey’s political theater around Easter (and omission of Ramadan), or Rep. John Kavanagh’s “God is in the gallery” tirade against his Latinx and openly humanist colleague, Rep. Athena Salman, as examples from just this year. There is a brand of politicized Christianity that believes appealing to one particular faith community and vilifying all others will draw enough support to offset the Arizonans that it alienates.

And the political points that such comments score go directly to reinforcing the regressive culture that threatens people of color and women across Arizona and the nation.

This is why humanism is so essential as a bridge-builder. We are those non-believing Americans who organize around shared progressive values to challenge lines of thinking like Allen’s, and then actually do something about it. We work across the interfaith spectrum to help religious minorities find their voice in a space of overwhelming Christian privilege, while collaborating with reform-minded Christians to reclaim their faith from the polarizing rhetoric of politicians who use it for their own gain. We provide a home to some of the countless religious “nones” whose doubts lead them in many cases, my own included, out of the religious right looking for community in the life after faith.

As long as anyone is otherized by harmful rhetoric when religion and racism mingle, a world where church and state are separate is essential if we hope our world to be one in which comments like Allen’s are wholly rejected.

Luke Douglas is the executive director of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, serving as an organizer, advocate, and celebrant. As a former fundamentalist Christian, Luke’s personal journey brought him to the progressive movement with experience that spans the political spectrum on the campaign trail, the legislative gallery and the court of law. He holds a Juris Doctorate with a concentration in constitutional law and a Bachelor of Arts in communications.


  1. Excellent piece. Non-believers and reasonable believers can definitely collaborate to protect human rights as well as protect the principles of separation of Church and State. Allen’s district really needs better representation and hopefully those constituents will wake up soon.

  2. At the end of the day everything comes down to race.

    For example, can most people answer the following question honestly without being triggered:

    Will a White minority US be safer, wealthier, and more united than now?

    If you answer “yes,” you have to give bloody good reasons why.

    The problem is, if you answer “no,” no amount of evidence will stop people calling you a “racist.”

    Sad, but true. It’s almost like hate IS truth, or the truth IS “racist.”

    An example is Baltimore. Everyone knows it is doing poorly because of race, but you cannot say that. (You can, but it will cost you your job, and some friends) That is why politics in the US will forever be locked in intractable issues because people will not talk honestly and charitably about the one thing that matters.

  3. OMG! If a white person, regardless of their economic or political persuasion, speaks truth to what every demographer who has any credibility has researched and identified, that person is obviously “fear mongering” or “racist” or “homophobic” or “xenophobic” or . . . depending on the subject matter. I have meetings in both the Senate and House and minority members have reiterated that the makeup of the constituency or body will change in the future due to the very same demographic projections Senator Allen addressed. In fact, I have witnessed some of those individuals use those facts as threats of future reprisals. Just as we have “black power” advocates, we have “brown power” advocates who constantly speak with literally the same verbiage about the upcoming political and economic power of their ethnicity.

    I read the words of Senator Allen and she never warned people of a future fraught with problems due to the demographic facts or asked them to have their children or grandchildren to increase childbirths to combat the coming apocalypse. She never stated that the facts portended of harm to society nor implored anyone to take actions to protect themselves from the future “threat”. On the other hand, her concerns about the decades old actions to decry and assail masculinity have been spoken on and preached on from black and Hispanic leaders for many years. It is time for all to look at facts, recognize reality and deal with the subject matter without making ad hominem attacks. We will only come to a place where we can actually live the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King when we stop pillorying each other with personal attacks.

    IMHO, Senator made only one large mistake in this whole situation – apologizing for simply informing and speaking the truth. One never should apologize for being a truth teller, regardless of the biased political or religious objectives of opponents.

  4. Fear mongering?

    Just a few examples of the more outrageous costs associated with illegal immigration, we will pass this burden on to our children & grand children as has been passed on to us.

    * City emergency services Taxpayer pay for every police, fire, paramedic service call for illegal aliens in their city. Taxpayers also pay for all hospital, emergency room treatments, ambulances, medications.. Hospital wait times for citizens are negatively impacted.

    *Cost of educating illegal aliens is staggering. From K-12 it costs taxpayers on average $122,000 for EACH illegal alien student. This does not include the millions spent on bilingual ED, instructors, special need children & day care. It is estimated nearly 100,000 illegal aliens graduate each year……you do the math. School class size are also negatively impacted by illegal aliens and our students suffer as a result.

    *Taxpayers in some states are funding “in state college tuition” discounts for illegal aliens. (AZ voted to terminate this taxpayer expense.) Cost to taxpayers over a billion dollars annually.

    *About one in five inmates in federal prison are foreign-born, & more than 90% of those are in the U.S illegally. This does not include local jails and state prisons. At roughly $24,000 per year expense per inmate.

    *$3Million Dollars a DAY is spent to incarcerate, process Illegal aliens in the criminal justice system.

    *$2.2 Billion dollars a year is spent on is spent on food assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, & taxpayer funded school lunches.

    *Every child birth by illegal aliens in the U.S is paid for with tax dollars.In the US, the average cost to have a baby without complications during delivery, is $10,808, which can increase to $30,000 when factoring in care provided before and after pregnancy (July 9, 2018 google.)

    * Section 8 housing. Illegal aliens take full advantage of this program. Citizens & their families in poverty in many cases wait years behind non citizens for emergency housing.

    • According to New American Economy, undocumented immigrants contributed $13 billion into the Social Security funds in 2016 and $3 billion to Medicare. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report in February 2016, stating that 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States are paying annually an estimated amount of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes, “on average an estimated 8 percent of their incomes.” Aviva Chomsky, a professor at Salem State College, states that “Early studies in California and in the Southwest and in the Southeast…have come to the same conclusions. Immigrants, legal and illegal, are more likely to pay taxes than they are to use public services.

  5. First, diversity is great for a community!
    Second, immigration has loads of benefits for the host nation — the list is endless!

    However, we have seen what ‘open borders’ have done for the EU – A complete and total disaster!

    Also, to be opinionated against an Islamic Hijrah is a rational and insightful position. (Islam has shown that it rarely assimilates, and adds radicalisation to the communities)

    Our immigration must increase, but must be of benefit to the host nation – First!


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