Everyone loves to make predictions and speculate on what might lie ahead for a new year. While no one on Americans United’s staff claims psychic powers, there are some things we can say with confidence about 2020 – mainly based on what we saw in 2019.
Unfortunately, we’re likely to see a continuance of some bad policies and reckless trends from last year. With that thought in mind, here are five things in church-state relations to watch out for in 2020:
President Donald Trump will continue to play to his evangelical base. This is an election year, and evangelical Christians are a huge part of Trump’s base. He’s going to be working hard to keep them happy – and, unfortunately, that means more attacks on separation of religion and government. The effort gets a boost tomorrow with the launch of the campaign event Evangelicals for Trump at a Florida mega-church.
Trump may claim he wasn’t rattled by the recent Christianity Today editorial calling him amoral and unfit to lead, but the vociferousness of his counter-attack indicates otherwise. It’s unlikely Trump will suffer significant erosion in his white evangelical base, but in a close election, even minor attrition could have an effect.
Project Blitz is coming back for another round. The backers of Project Blitz – an effort to pass Christian nationalist laws in the states – are gearing up for new legislative assaults. The good news is, AU’s Public Policy team is on the case. We’re already tracking some pre-filed bills, and we’ll expose and oppose every dangerous bill they unveil. (We’ll have more on Project Blitz, which is now calling itself “Freedom for All,” in a few days, so watch this space.)
Expect more bad regulations at the federal level. The Trump administration has wreaked much of its havoc not by passing new laws in Congress but by overturning or issuing new regulations at the federal agency level. Using the regulatory process, the administration has attempted to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people, permit taxpayer-funded foster care and adoptions agencies to weaponize religion as an instrument of discrimination and allow people who work in the health care industry to deny services to others on the basis of the workers’ religious beliefs, among other things. AU is fighting many of these misguided regulations in court, and we’re expecting to see more in 2020. A series of “faith based” regulations that govern the partnerships between the federal government and faith-based social service providers is expected to be issued soon, and it looks like these new rules could open even more avenues to discrimination and taxpayer-funded religion.
It’s likely to be a big year at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court later this month will hear oral arguments in a case that could be a blockbuster. Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which will be decided by July, concerns a private school tax-credit voucher plan in Montana that was struck down by that state’s supreme court. The Montana high court held that the plan violated religious freedom provisions in the state constitution. A broad ruling in this case by the U.S. Supreme Court could invalidate similar provisions in about three-quarters of the state constitutions, meaning that states might be required to fund private religious schools.
In addition, shortly before the holidays, the high court accepted two cases dealing with the rights of employees at religious schools. A broad ruling in these cases could mean that all employees of religious schools, even those whose duties are primarily not religious, would no longer have the protection of civil rights laws.
Reproductive freedom hangs in the balance. The Supreme Court will hear a case that could lead it to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion in America. If that happens you can expect to see a flood of anti-abortion bills in the states. And don’t expect things to stop there. Far-right religious groups that have been trying to curtail access to birth control under the guise of “protecting religious freedom” will also be emboldened.
Here’s one more thing that will happen in 2020: You’ll be able to count on Americans United to stand up to each and every one of these attacks on church-state separation – and any others that come along. We’ll meet the opponents of separation of religion and government in the courtrooms, in state legislatures, in Congress, in the arena of public opinion and anywhere else. When our rights and freedoms are under attack, Americans United will be there. Count on it.
It’s going to be a busy year. Now would be a great time to get involved.