History likely will remember a lot of things about the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, and one of those things will be his use of Twitter.
Trump has reportedly tweeted more than 2,600 times in the last year – much to the dismay of many. A recent survey conducted by The Economist and research firm YouGov found that 59 percent of respondents called Trump’s use of Twitter inappropriate.
A search on the Trump tweet-tracking website trumptwitterarchive.com indicates some of his most frequent tweet topics include the news media, taxes, Russia, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and #MAGA. But he’s tweeted about issues affecting church-state separation and religious freedom a fair number of times – sadly, not in ways that support either. Here’s a recap of some of the tweets that have concerned AU:
“War on Christmas” – Just last week, Trump claimed victory in the fake war pitting those who say “Merry Christmas” against those who say “Happy Holidays” when he tweeted: “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!” As we’ve repeatedly outlined, our constitutional freedoms of religion and speech give us the right to offer whatever holiday greeting we want – or no greeting at all.
“We worship GOD” – Along the same lines of trampling freedom of speech and religion, Trump several times has tweeted variations of the phrase, “We don’t worship government, we worship God.” This statement completely ignores the reality of religious diversity in America, where some people don’t worship a god, or may worship many gods, or worship a concept of god different from Trump’s. As AU responded, “Wrong! In America, we have the right to worship or not worship whatever we want. It's entirely our choice.”
Anti-Muslim rhetoric – Between lambasting judges who blocked his Muslim ban from going into effect to circulating vile, anti-Muslim propaganda, Trump has continued to demonstrate the animus for Muslim communities that he showed when began vowing to ban Muslims from the U.S. while on the campaign trail. As Americans United and our allies continue to challenge Trump’s Muslim ban in court, judges have pointed to his tweets and rhetoric as troubling.
In early December, when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the cases brought by AU and others, judges noted three widely discredited, fake and/or misleading anti-Muslim videos Trump had shared the previous week from an anti-Muslim propagandist in Britain (soon after, amid a crackdown on hate speech, Twitter suspended the account Trump had retweeted). 4th Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz questioned, “The president has continued to make statements that some people regard to be anti-Muslim after the issuance of (the latest Muslim ban) order. Should we be surprised that it might be construed as an anti-Muslim order?”
FEMA church aid – After Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and the Gulf region, a few churches represented by the conservative Christian legal group Becket sued the federal government to seek taxpayer funding to repair their facilities. Pandering to his Religious Right base, Trump chimed in on Twitter: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”
Not surprisingly, Trump mischaracterized FEMA disaster funding: As AU explained, houses of worship are eligible for reimbursement for services they provided during the storms, and they are eligible for government rebuilding loans, just like most nonprofits and businesses. What they aren’t eligible for is direct government grants – and neither are most nonprofits unless they provide government-like services to the general public. The government is not in the business of building religious facilities – even after a terrible disaster. That is at the core of the First Amendment, and we must stand by it in good times and in bad.
There are plenty of other tweets that caught my eye – from pandering to Religious Right figures like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Rev. Robert Jeffress, to hyping private school vouchers after touring a religious school in Florida.
I’d say that I wish Trump’s new year’s resolution would be to stop tweeting, but really, the tweets are just the symptom, not the disease. The new year cure I wish for Trump – and the United States – is that he’d commit to protecting church-state separation and religious freedom. Since that resolution seems unlikely to be on his to-do list, rest assured it remains the top priority for us at Americans United. And that’s a resolution we’ve made and kept for more than 70 years.