President Donald J. Trump will address a joint session of Congress tonight. Technically not a State of the Union address (the President does not give a State of the Union address until his second year in office), Trump will be setting out his vision and goals for his new administration.
Thus far, Trump’s unpredictable presidency has already brought a multitude of church-state separation battles.
While we don’t know the full details of what he will say to Congress tonight, here are some key issues we’ll be watching for:
Pulpit Politicking: Trump has repeatedly vowed to repeal—even “totally destroy”—the Johnson Amendment, a federal law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. He claims it interferes with the “right to worship according to our own beliefs” and has boasted that doing so “will be [his] greatest contribution to Christianity.”
Because the Johnson Amendment protects the integrity of houses of worship, elections, and the tax code, we continue to fight to defend it. And most Americans agree: Partisan politics simply don’t belong in the pulpit.
The Muslim Ban: One of the biggest threats to religious freedom the U.S. faces today is Trump’s executive order that creates a Muslim ban. The ban singles out one religious group—Muslims—for discrimination based solely on how they worship and that’s unconstitutional. That is why the executive order was immediately challenged in court by many organizations, including Americans United, and several federal courts have blocked it.
As early as tomorrow, Trump is expected to roll out a new executive order that the administration claims will address these court rulings. But, the new revised plan is reportedly very similar to the current order and Trump advisor Steven Miller admits it will result in the “same, basic policy outcome for the country.”
If that turns out to be true, AU is prepared to go through round two of fighting against this threat to religious freedom.
Anti-LGBTQ Actions: Trump may again try to declare that he’s “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.” But actions like this speak louder than words and the Trump administration has already taken steps to reverse the LGBTQ progress achieved under the Obama administration.
Just last week, the administration rescinded Obama administration guidance reminding public schools that transgender student rights are protected under Title IX. We joined a diverse group of organizations in condemning this action because transgender students will surely face increased discrimination in the wake of the rescission.
The administration has also acknowledged that Trump is considering signing an anti-LGBTQ executive order that would allow discrimination in the name of religion. The draft executive order is aimed at allowing individuals, government employees, businesses, and taxpayer-funded organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people, women and their families. But it reaches even more broadly to affect those of minority faiths, non-theists and almost anyone else. It even explicitly permits discrimination against people who have sex outside of marriage.
Yesterday, a report indicated that advisers are rewriting this sweeping executive order, suggesting they know it’s on shaky legal ground. But the revised order is likely to be just as indefensible: it’s “anchor concept” will still allow businesses to use religion as an excuse to refuse to serve LGBTQ people.
Real religious freedom does not permit discrimination under the guise of religion. If and when this executive order comes, we are prepared to fight it. And you can take action right now to stand up for real religious freedom let Trump know that this draft order is unacceptable.
Education: Trump previously said that he would divert $20 billion in federal funding to “school choice,” which usually translates into private school vouchers, and his newly sworn-in secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has spent her life pushing private school vouchers. Furthermore, one of Trump’s guests for the speech will be a recipient of a tuition tax credit—a voucher by another name. That means Trump will likely tout private school vouchers tonight.
Americans United fights vouchers because taxpayer money should support public education, which serves all students. Private religious schools, on the other hand, do not provide the same rights and protections to students as public schools and can discriminate against students, rejecting them because of their sexual orientation, religion and more. Repeated studies show that vouchers do not improve academic achievement and in fact, two recent studies of voucher programs revealed that students who used vouchers actually performed worse on standardized tests than their peers.
And of course, vouchers violate the fundamental principle of religious freedom because they pay for religious education with taxpayer funds
It seems unlikely that these will be the only to religious freedom issues that come up under the Trump-Pence administration. But one thing is certain: AU will continue to stand up to any attempts to harm religious freedom. The next four years may present new dangers, but, just as we have for the past 70 years, whenever the church-state wall is threatened, we will fight back.