The past four years have been a nightmare for many political, racial and ethnic groups in the US, but especially for non-Christians. An article in the latest issue of “Church & State magazine, a publication of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), spells it out.
The nation witnessed an unprecedented assault on separation of church and state during the Presidency of Donald Trump. He aggressively courted Christian nationalists during the 2016 campaign, and he promised to implement an agenda that would please them if they backed him. They did. In 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Once elected, he began to put in place policy proposals long sought by the Religious Right. As a result, white evangelicals remained firmly in Trump’s camp through his four years in office no matter what he said or did, or what scandals erupted.
The evangelical Christian support continued through the 2020 election, but fortunately, it wasn’t enough to save him. A majority of the voters had seen enough, and they booted him out. The article continues with a 10-step agenda to correct some of the damage that has been done to our secular government.
- Repeal the Muslim Ban. This is a breach of the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. But Christian Nationalists love it because they fear that the growing non-Christian influx will reduce their political hegemony. This needs to be fixed.
- Sign an Executive Order to restore and protect religious freedom for all Americans. The Trump administration has misused religious freedom to score political points, cause harm, discriminate and divide the country.
- Protect the religious freedom of people who use government-funded social services. Many faith-based organizations receive government funding, such as food banks, homeless shelters and elder care. Trump’s proposed rules allow such agencies to use religion to discriminate on religious grounds against people who use these services.
- Protect Federally-funded employees from religious discrimination. Trump’s policies allow taxpayer-funded contractors and grantees to use religion to discriminate against their employees. This needs to be fixed.
- Ensure people are not denied health care based on someone else’s religion. Trump has instituted policies that allow health care workers to cite their religious beliefs to deny women and LGBTQ people the health care and health insurance that they need. This needs to be fixed, so that no one is denied access to health care because of someone else’s religious beliefs.
- Support the Do No Harm Act. The Trump administration has used the RFRA to justify harmful and discriminatory policies. The Do No Harm Act was sponsored in the Senate by Kamala Harris, our new Vice President, to restore the RFRA to its original intention; to protect religious freedom, such as the right to wear religious attire and celebrate religious holidays. It also makes it clear that it cannot be used to harm others through discriminatory practices.
- Fund public schools – not private schools – with public funds. The first and most important result of the election will be getting rid of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, who is a big promoter of taxpayer-funded support for church-sponsored schools. That has to stop. It violates the Constitution. But worse yet, it deprives public schools of the funding that is diverted to church-sponsored schools.
- Protect and endorse the Johnson Amendment. Trump has bragged that he “got rid of the Johnson Amendment,” that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This seems like commonsense…to keep government from using its financial power to intervene in elections. But religious organizations have long fought against this, and in many cases have defied it, and dared the IRS to come after them. Enforcement of this has always been lax and spotty, but under Trump, it was nonexistent, with many church leaders openly supporting Trump. It’s time to fix this and put some teeth in it.
- Ensure that our government reflects our nation’s religious diversity. Trump has surrounded himself with evangelical Christians in his administration, and their influence on our government is overwhelming. Biden has already shown that he intends to have much wider diversity in his choices for Cabinet and other federal agency positions. Our government should represent ALL of our people, not a favored minority.
- Nominate Federal judges who respect the separation of church and state. Trump has already packed the courts, including the Supreme Court, with right wing judges, many of them evangelical Christians. Biden must do what he can to correct the balance by nominating judges who respect the principle of separation of church and state, especially with regard to the use of religious beliefs to discriminate. Religious freedom should never be used to harm others.
Biden’s success in implementing most of this agenda depends on Congress, and if Republicans win the two Senate seats in Georgia, he will be stymied, except for things he can accomplish with Executive Orders. In fact, anything and everything he tries to do will be obstructed in every way Republicans can devise. They have already committed to that, and their Trumpie base will demand it, and even threaten them if they waver.
Biden can still accomplish some things, and most important of all, stop the damage to our republic from continuing.
It’s gonna be a tough four years, but it is far better with Biden in the White House than it would have been if the destructor of our secular republic had been re-elected.
We will have to settle for small victories now. Later, I hope that at least some of the people will wake up and see what happened, and how threatening it was. I wish I could be more confident.