Donald J. Trump, a real estate developer and reality TV star with no political experience, was elected president of the United States Nov. 8. This has shocked people all over the world, and political analysts are still grappling with how Trump beat Hillary Clinton, a seasoned politician who was leading in the polls.
Americans United is wrestling with a more fundamental question: What does the rise of Trump mean for the separation of church and state?
Nothing good, that’s for sure. During the campaign, Trump kowtowed to the Religious Right and made a number of dangerous policy proposals that, if enacted, will surely undermine religious freedom in America.
Consider the following:
Trump has vowed to overturn the federal law that bars tax-exempt groups, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates. This law, known as the “Johnson Amendment” for its sponsor, then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas), protects houses of worship from becoming cogs in partisan political machines. It’s likely that Trump knows little about it, but, prodded by Jerry Falwell Jr., he repeatedly promised to do away with it during this campaign. That’s an ill-conceived proposal that would politicize houses of worship and create a massive new loophole in the nation’s campaign finance laws.
Trump wants to create an expensive, nationwide school voucher program at a staggering price tag of $20 billion. A plan like this would force Americans to fund sectarian instruction against their will and threaten adequate funding for the public school system that serves 90 percent of our nation’s children. It could be the beginning of privatization of America’s public school system – a long-sought goal of the far right.
Trump used crude forms of Islamophobia to whip up crowds and has even proposed banning Muslims from entering the country. Trump’s insistence that refugees or others entering the country could somehow be interrogated on their religious beliefs and denied entry if they don’t “assimilate,” shows his abysmal understanding of the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections. His willingness to casually demonize millions of law-abiding American Muslims and tar them with the brush of terrorism is appalling.
Trump has proposed putting justices like Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. A list of potential high court justices that Trump released earlier this year was studded with conservatives. Since there is an opening on the court right now, a Trump appointment could have an immediate effect. And, given the advanced ages of some the justices, more vacancies are likely.
Trump supports a bill pending in Congress that would allow people to use religion to discriminate against others. The misnamed “First Amendment Defense Act,” is nothing more than a license to take away the rights of LGBTQ Americans, non-believers, members of religious minorities and others under the guise of protecting “religious freedom.” Real religious freedom is a noble and important concept. It should never be used as a tool to harm others.
Trump offered support to a Washington state public school football coach who has been told to stop praying with players. Trump told Coach Joe Kennedy of Bremerton High School that what happened to him was “absolutely outrageous. I think it’s outrageous. I think it’s very, very sad and outrageous.” But what happened to Kennedy was not outrageous. It was just. He was praying with football players, a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s rulings on school-sponsored prayer.
Equally troubling is Trump’s tendency to take advice from religious zealots. The Evangelical Advisory Board Trump formed during his campaign was salted with Religious Right figures, men and women who have no respect for the church-state wall.
When it came time to pick a running mate, Trump went with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Religious Right favorite. Trump and Pence both spoke at this year’s Values Voter Summit, a Religious Right gathering sponsored by the Family Research Council.
So yes, things are very bad and will likely get worse. But remember this: Americans United has been at this for 70 years. We’ve survived hostile administrations before. We know how to fight and win under adverse conditions.
The results of Nov. 8 were disappointing. But don’t despair. That’s what the Religious Right wants. Americans United has no intention of backing down from its core mission of buttressing the protective barrier that must exist between church and state.
You should not either.