Trumped Up Religious Freedom: What It Does, What It Doesn’t

In honor of National Day of Prayer, President Trump–pretending to know what prayer is–made good on a campaign promise to protect religious freedom.

Sort of.

Maybe you’ve missed this in the newsfeed, what with the horror show that is the GOP health plan. So let’s recap: since before he was elected, DJT has promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which restricts the political activity of non-profit organizations. Including churches. Vowing to “protect” Christians from being “bullied” and “silenced,” today he signed an order to give the persecuted Christian majority an even more privileged voice in public discourse.

So he claims.

However… well, when you’re responding to pretend persecution to begin with, you kind of need a pretend solution.

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This “religious freedom” act–which is about neither freedom, nor religion, just so we’re clear–doesn’t have much substance. As it turns out, Trump does not have the power to repeal the Johnson Amendment. For all his blustering about reclaiming religious freedom, all he really did was sign a directive telling the IRS to be more lax in prosecuting groups that do not comply. As usual, behind all the grandstanding and self-important celebration, there’s a whole lot of nothing.

Because the IRS already doesn’t really give a flip about what churches are preaching about.

In fact, the very few cases that have been pursued have mostly involved African American congregations that were pushing social justice issues and candidates. So, in other words–it is progressive churches that most often get in trouble for political activity. So, I guess, thanks? He just made it easier for all of us to beat the pavement with our liberal propaganda in one hand, and a Bible in the other.

Not that we want to do that. Then again, we aren’t the ones believing that we need the protection of the schoolyard bully.

While he may have won the undying admiration of the fundamentalist base for this– who can now stump for their “pro-life” and “family values” candidates without fear of fiscal consequence–it ultimately changes nothing. I hate to be the one to tell them but, if anything, it just means the progressive voice is going to get louder in the next election cycle.

However–what it also means is that churches can financially support politicians. Which could get very, very ugly. Especially when you consider that the churches with the most capital to do that are (mostly conservative) mega-churches. It’s almost as though Donald Trump has done something sinister in the interest of power financial gain. But that would be silly…

My favorite part is his promise that “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced any more. And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination, never ever.” So. That means Jewish folks too, right? And Muslims? This administration has always been a great friend to our Muslim brothers and sisters, so of course this is about protecting them too…

(I’ll wait while you finish your rolling on the floor hysterical laughter)

Meanwhile, the rest of the GOP marked the National Day of Prayer by taking healthcare away from millions of Americans…making it impossible to get care if you are actually sick or if, God forbid, you have a uterus. Your family values vote at work, people. Thank god for bringing morality back to the government!

I’m running out of room for all this sarcasm… But do not despair. This has to get through a few more rounds of legislative red tape and drama before it means anything, and a lot can happen between here and there. My prayer, on this day that is supposedly designated for such, is that this healthcare measure turns out to be one more empty promise. Or rather, in this case, one more empty threat.

If you are a praying person, I hope you will join me in that prayer. I hope you will also contact your Senators, since this thing is in their hands now, and remind them that sick people vote. And previously sick people who are well now, also vote. Parents of sick children vote. Children of aging parents vote. And people who just have an ounce of compassion for the ones who will be most affected by this change…we vote too.

Remind them that we don’t just pray. We also vote. But in the meantime, we will certainly be praying for them–that God might have mercy on their souls.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...