Tonight, President Donald Trump will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress and the American public. As he’s done in speech after speech during the first year of his presidency, he’ll likely claim he’s protecting religious freedom when in reality he’s doing the exact opposite by advancing policies that promote discrimination in the name of religion, politicize houses of worship and compel taxpayers to fund religious schools.
Here’s a primer on what church-state separation issues Trump might talk about tonight – and what he really means:
When Trump talks about religious freedom, he’s really talking about discrimination. Religious freedom gives us all the right to believe – or not – but it doesn’t give anyone the right to use religion to harm others. Yet the Trump-Pence administration has issued rules that allow universities and other employers to block access to birth control in their employees’ and students’ health insurance plans. The administration also just proposed a rule that would allow health care providers to deny critical medical care to women, LGBTQ patients and others – all in the name of religion. AU and our allies have sued the administration over the birth control rules, and we’re closely watching the administration’s just-proposed rule to allow discrimination.
When Trump talks about “school choice,” he is talking about private school vouchers. Vouchers are bad for school children, families, public schools and taxpayers because they funnel desperately needed taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into private, mostly religious schools. Voucher programs don’t offer the same civil rights protections to disabled or LGBTQ students, they rarely improve – and in many cases worsen – student achievement and they compel taxpayers to fund religious instruction. On Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures and in the courts, AU works to ensure public money funds public schools. In fact, we just scored a court victory that marks the end of a Colorado voucher program. You can help protect public schools by urging your elected officials to oppose vouchers.
When Trump talks about “totally destroying” the Johnson Amendment, he wants to change the law for his own benefit, not for the benefit of nonprofits. The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity of our elections and our nonprofits, including houses of worship, by ensuring tax-exempt organizations do not endorse or oppose political candidates. The law allows nonprofits to fulfill their missions while protecting them from the corrosive influence of partisan politics. Even though the majority of Americans (including Republicans, evangelicals and faith leaders) want the Johnson Amendment’s protections to remain in place, Trump and a few Republican and Religious Right leaders want to repeal this law to boost their own political power. AU and our allies – along with a lot of grass-roots support – were successful in keeping a Johnson Amendment repeal out of the December tax bill, but the fight isn’t over yet.
When Trump talks about immigration and national security, one of the things he is talking about is his repeated attempts to ban Muslims from the United States. Trump’s Muslim ban is fundamentally un-American and unconstitutional because it is designed to ban people from this country based on their religious beliefs. AU has challenged every iteration of this ban. With our allies, we are in court fighting on behalf of six people whose loved ones have been blocked from entering the United States, as well as on behalf of two nonprofits. And the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the Muslim ban in a few short months.
Americans United will be listening closely to Trump’s State of the Union speech tonight. We’re ready to translate his misleading statements about religious freedom. You can follow along with us on Twitter, and sign up for our emails so you’ll know how you can join us in the fight to protect religious freedom, fairness and equality.