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Alabama justice who ruled embryos are people says American law should be rooted in the Bible

Tom Parker, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, expressed his support for the Seven Mountains Mandate, a once-fringe philosophy that calls on evangelical Christians to reshape American law and society based on their beliefs.
Photo illustration of embryos in petri dishes under a microscope, a paper cutout of a cross, and Alabama's Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker cited the book of Genesis and God's "wrath" in his opinion ruling that frozen embryos have the same rights as living children. Chelsea Stahl / NBC News; Getty Images; AP

On the same day that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker handed down an opinion declaring that fertilized frozen embryos are people, imperiling women’s access to in vitro fertilization treatments, he espoused support for a once-fringe philosophy that calls on evangelical Christians to reshape society based on their interpretation of the Bible.

During an online broadcast hosted by Tennessee evangelist Johnny Enlow on Friday, Parker suggested America was founded explicitly as a Christian nation and discussed his embrace of the Seven Mountains Mandate — the belief that conservative Christians are meant to rule over seven key areas of American life, including media, business, education and government.

“God created government, and the fact that we have let it go into the possession of others, it’s heartbreaking,” Parker said in the interview, first reported this week by Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit media watchdog. “That’s why he is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now.”

Hours before the interview was published, Parker issued a concurring opinion in a case in which he and his fellow justices ruled that frozen embryos have the same rights as living children under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

Parker wrote that Alabama had adopted a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life” and that “life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.” To support his legal opinion, Parker repeatedly cited the book of Genesis, including a passage asserting that all people are created in God’s image.

“Even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God,” Parker wrote, “and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

Parker did not respond to messages requesting comment. In a written statement, Enlow said, in his view, the Seven Mountains Mandate encourages Christians to fight for their values in government and elsewhere to aid “in the healing of society.”

“It is not sinister to desire a voice and relevance in political matters,” said Enlow, who in 2020 suggested that then-President Donald Trump could impose martial law to remain in office following his electoral defeat. “I am pretty sure that is why every citizen takes the time to vote.”

Parker’s statements — in his remarks to Enlow and in his written opinion — are the latest examples of Republican politicians and elected officials embracing the Christian nationalist view that America’s laws should be rooted in a fundamentalist reading of the Bible.

The Alabama chief justice’s embrace of the Seven Mountains Mandate, in particular, signaled the growing influence of a once-fringe political and religious theology that’s been spreading in recent years among certain segments of evangelical Christians, said Matthew D. Taylor, a senior scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Maryland.

“The Seven Mountains is not about democracy,” said Taylor, who has studied the role Christian extremism played in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “In fact, I would argue that the Seven Mountains itself is a vision that is antidemocratic.”

Adherents of the ideology have grown in prominence and power in the years since the 2016 election, when Trump became an unlikely hero of the Christian right and cultivated relationships with celebrity pastors who preach the Seven Mountains Mandate. Parker is the latest in a line of prominent Republicans to openly embrace the concept, Taylor said.

Charlie Kirk, the MAGA influencer and founder of Turning Point USA, celebrated the GOP’s shift under Trump when he told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2020, “Finally we have a president that understands the seven mountains of cultural influence.”

In 2022, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado called on attendees at a political conference hosted by a group with a mission to “reform the nation via the Seven Mountains” to “rise up” and place “God back at the center of our country.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, the nation’s highest-ranking Republican, also has ties to pastors and activists who preach the Seven Mountains. Johnson, like Parker, has aligned himself with the evangelical activist and self-styled historian David Barton, a leading promoter of the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation whose laws should reflect biblical principles.

Barton and other Seven Mountains proponents argue that the idea of separation of church and state, regarded by many as a bedrock of American democracy, is a myth invented by progressives based on a misreading of Thomas Jefferson’s famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists. And any laws or court rulings limiting the influence of religion in schools and government — such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1962 and 1963 decisions banning mandatory public school prayer and Bible readings — are an affront to America’s true founding.

These ideas aren’t only gaining influence among preachers and politicians, experts say. In a survey last year, Paul Djupe, a political scientist at Denison University, found that about 20% of American adults — and 30% of Christians — agreed with the statement that “God wants Christians to stand atop the ‘7 mountains of society,’ including the government, education, media, and others.”

Prior to conducting the survey, Djupe expected to discover only marginal support for the Seven Mountains concept. 

“It turns out,” he said, “a substantial number of Americans believe these things.”

Parker echoed Barton’s views about America’s founding during his interview with Enlow, after Enlow asked the chief justice to comment on the growing use of the phrase “Christian nationalism” among those who support the separation of church and state.

“This is an undefined term that’s being thrown around now to label people, and I have no idea what they mean by or what should be meant by it,” said Parker, who then defended his view that America’s “original form of government” was based on the Bible. 

“It’s constitutional,” Parker said. “It’s our foundation.”

The Alabama ruling dealing with in vitro fertilization, or IVF, offers a picture of what that worldview might look like in practice and how it might affect the lives of regular citizens, Taylor said. 

After Parker and his colleagues issued their ruling, the state’s largest hospital paused IVF treatments while it considered the legal repercussions of the decision.

Taylor said it was “jaw-dropping” to hear a state supreme court chief justice espousing a theology that he views as antidemocratic “while making very extreme decisions.”

But, he added, “this is the new reality of our politics.”