By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
President Donald Trump bragged last Friday at the “Voters Value Summit” in D.C. that he is the first president — although far from the first presidential candidate — to appear in person at that theocratic gathering. He proclaimed to his constituency: “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values.”
Trump’s speech was pure pandering. For instance, he repeated and embroidered on his offensive remarks, first given at Falwell’s Liberty University, claiming all Americans are believers. (Apparently nonbelievers are not true Americans.) “America is a nation of believers,” Trump stated, “and together we are strengthened and sustained by the power of prayer.”
Trump dropped a little scripture — a very little, I’d even say the bare minimum. His red meat to the antiabortionists was the line, “We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.” How did he manage to deliver this line without choking, considering he made this statement the day after he took action to deprive many Americans of affordable health care? (As MSNBC put it, “Trump goes to war against his own country’s health care system.”)
Trump delivered the inevitable cherry-picked version of America as “one nation under God,” throwing out the usual theocratic bromides. While not actually lying, his remarks deliberately omitted the real facts. For instance, he told the crowd: “Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer.” True, Franklin did so. Conveniently left out is the fact that after hearing Franklin’s remarks, the gathering couldn’t move fast enough to adjourn for the day, never taking up Franklin on his suggestion to pray. That is tremendously significant. During the heated, protracted four-month Constitutional Convention, the framers of our secular constitution never once prayed.
Trump noted that “The American Founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence — four times.” Of course, Trump failed to mention there is no god in the Constitution we are governed under, or that the author of the Bill of Rights was a heretical Deist. If that’s the best Trump can do, it’s rather pathetic.
What is not pathetic is Trump’s swift and ruthless deliverance of major campaign pledges to the extreme Christian Right, as he reminded his audience: “In the last 10 months, we have followed through on one promise after another.”
While derided for accomplishing little during his first nine months in office, Trump has in fact been mercilessly crossing off a to-do list on creating what Nation columnist Katha Pollitt calls a “theocracy of dunces.” At the summit, Trump proudly recited the litany of such accomplishments:
- Getting Neil Gorsuch, a man “in the mold of the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia,” confirmed.
- Protecting “the unborn” by reinstating, with a vengeance, the global gag order.
- Signing the May 4 executive order to “protect religious liberty” on the National Day of Prayer, specifically to “prevent the horrendous Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights” and to disallow “government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis.” (Needless to say, the government is not targeting our pastors, ministers or rabbis, because all 501(c)(3) groups, not just churches, are forbidden to use tax-exempt funds for political purposes.)
- Instructing Attorney General Sessions to release what Trump described as “guidance to all federal agencies to ensure that no religious group is ever targeted under my administration.” That far-reaching 20-point memo green lights discrimination under the guise of religion. Its mischief is only beginning.
- Issuing another executive order 10 days ago disastrously rescinding Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. Trump’s order would allow any employer, not such nunneries or “closely-held” for-profit corporations run by fanatics such as Hobby Lobby, to deny women workers any contraception of which the employers inexplicably disapprove. Laying it on thick, Trump tsk-tsk’ed the “hell” that groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor supposedly went through under the mandate. (“Going through hell” amounted to the “Little Sisters” being asked to sign a short 1-page waiver if they wished to be excused from following the contraceptive mandate.)
- Finally and anticlimactically, Trump then told the cheering crowd of fundamentalists: “We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we worship neither government nor god, but we do have reverence for the First Amendment and its wall between church and state. And we’re paying close attention to the president’s and attorney general’s words about the Johnson Amendment.
That’s because FFRF sued Trump on May 4, the very day of his executive order, over that order and his explanation that ministers now have the right to politick from the pulpit, and the Internal Revenue Service does not have the right to do anything about it. The 20-point memo by the Department of Justice states much the same.
While Trump and Sessions really cannot repeal the Johnson Amendment by fiat in this manner, they can, by continually claiming it is no longer in force, create disrespect for that law, encourage rogue pastors to endorse from the pulpit and chill enforcement by the IRS.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to press for passage of a budget item before Congress to defund enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, but only as it applies to churches.
The Establishment Clause and equal protection under the law are being pummeled by this administration. Secular government is under siege. Secularists may snicker over Trump’s blatant and hypocritical pandering (not to mention his terrible grammar — I will say only that he “laid an egg” in his “voters values” speech).
But we must all be aware the unending assaults against the First Amendment are in their own class, like nothing we at FFRF have ever seen in our nearly 40 years of existence.
The time to take alarm is now.
- Join FFRF if you are not yet a member.
- Take one short minute to sign your name to the pre-filled comment section of our action alert to ask your U.S. representative remove the proposal to weaken the Johnson Amendment from the budget. Phone your reps and senators to ask them to remove from the budget the attack on the Johnson Amendment. If you’ve already contacted them, do it again! (The Religious Right does not give up. Nor can we.)
- Contribute to FFRF’s Legal Fund. FFRF has won four significant federal court rulings in the past four weeks alone, including a breaking news victory Friday over Texas’ pious Gov. Greg Abbott, who wrongly censored our Bill of Rights display at the statehouse. Among the major wins comes one insulting federal loss in court last week, essentially saying you and I are persona non grata in Congress.
It’s time not just to take alarm, but to take action to protect that besieged wall of separation between religion and government in the United States, the only wall we need.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.