Penned by Susan Jacoby, an author who often writes about religion and secularism, the article highlights some of the latest efforts from the Trump administration to merge religion (in this case, fundamentalist Christianity) with government.
“Attacks on the wall of separation established by the founders – which the religious right likes to call ‘a lie of the left’ – are nothing new,” Jacoby wrote. “What has changed under Mr. Trump is the disproportionate political debt he owes to extreme religious conservatives, whose views on church-state issues – ranging from the importance of secular public education to women’s and gay rights – are far removed from the American mainstream.”
Jacoby is right about Trump’s debt to the Religious Right. He gives, and they reward. As of April, Trump’s popularity among white evangelicals hit a new high. A Public Religion Research Institute poll showed that 75 percent of white evangelicals approve of Trump, despite multiple scandals that go against the “values” and “morals” these folks so often boast about championing.
Jacoby asserted that this explains why Americans shouldn’t have been surprised when Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible to justify Trump’s family separation policy at the border. She quoted Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser who said, “The separation of church and state means that we don’t base public policy on the Bible or any religious book.”
Observed Jacoby, “This scriptural justification for a political decision should not have surprised anyone, because Mr. Trump’s administration has consistently treated the separation of church and state as a form of heresy rather than a cherished American value.”
As Jacoby pointed out, Trump has infused his administration with officials who continue to chip away at the church-state wall.
That includes Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who prioritizes funneling public money from public schools to private school voucher programs that often go to religious schools that pick and choose which students to serve while lacking accountability. And it includes Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, who says protecting church-state separation is “political correctness.”
The list of Trump administration officials invoking religion to justify their policy is hefty. But, as Jacoby notes, the Religious Right conveniently ignores evangelicals – present and past – who didn’t favor aligning their faith with government power.
“Many evangelical Christians do not share such theocratic fantasies. These evangelicals, like former President Jimmy Carter, are spiritual descendants of Roger Williams, who was banished from the Puritan theocracy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded the first Baptist congregation in colonial America,” Jacoby wrote. “Williams is an inconvenient figure for today’s religious right, which asserts that the only purpose of the ‘wall of separation’ was to protect religion from government – not government from religion. That was true in early colonial America, but the other side of the equation was well understood by the time the Constitution – which never mentions God and explicitly bars all religious tests for public office – was written.”
Now, with the announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump is now poised to nominate a new justice. He has said we shouldn’t trust government but should trust God. Will his nominee to the Supreme Court share that view? The situation is especially precarious because this justice could shift the balance on the court, and nothing less than the future of church-state separation is at stake. That’s why we urge you to contact your Senators today and tell them to oppose any nominee who will undermine the separation of church and state.
America should be a place where people of all religions and non-religious backgrounds should be welcome. It should also be a place where religion isn’t used to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, minorities and other marginalized people.
Although the Religious Right has a seat at the table and the ear of Trump, we at Americans United will continue fighting to protect the church-state wall, regardless of what policies the administration proposes.
The leaders and followers of the Religious Right may be distorting the true meaning of religious freedom, but we know they don’t represent the majority of people of faith in America. If you are a faith leader who wants to get involved in protecting true religious freedom through Faith Leaders United, sign up here.