It has always been curious why in a secular nation with a secular Constitution that expressly prohibits religion from being endorsed or supported by the government, there is something as patently unconstitutional as “the National Day of Prayer.” Today, the federal government-designated “prayer day” serves as an opportunity for Trump to mark the day with an executive order granting churches and other religious groups’ freedom to campaign for Republicans from the pulpit without risking their tens-of-billions of dollars in tax-exempt non-profits; what normal people call welfare.
Trump “hosted” conservative religious organizations’ leaders to fulfill a long-sought-after campaign pledge to the GOP’s most reliable voting bloc; fanatical Christians. On this particularly absurd national day of prayer the evangelical dream of ‘overcoming’ a secular tax code provision prohibiting churches from “directly opposing or supporting political candidates” will be realized. According to primarily evangelical groups, not being allowed to financially benefit from taxpayers’ largesse because they use captive congregations to campaign for Republicans is a violation of their religious freedom. There has never been a prohibition on the clergy preaching religion, period! But this “issue” has nothing whatsoever to do with preaching religion or using their god’s word to minister to the flock; it is about campaigning for religious Republicans and preserving their taxpayer-funded welfare payments for being churches advancing theocratic agendas.
Now, there are some members of the clergy who say they are not interested in using sermons to endorse Republican candidates because it might “split their congregations” or dog forbid, distract from their religious messages. It is even the case among some members of the evangelical clergy, but the “conservative evangelical advisers” dominating Trump’s administration insist that he does their bidding now and without question. The previous plan was to insert an amendment abolishing the Johnson Amendment in tax reform legislation, but evangelicals have been emboldened to exert their new-found authority due to so many high-ranking evangelicals running the government.
Trump is forbidden from unilaterally striking down the Johnson Amendment; the Constitution says that is the purview of Congress, at least until Trump abolishes that “archaic” document he claims is bad for the country. That seems to present a problem for Trump’s theocratic edict, but the evangelicals in the administration and Christian faith leaders say Trump can just order the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to stop enforcing the federal law and cease and desist from investigating or pursuing cases of political campaigning by the evangelical clergy.
The New York Times noted that a decidedly theocratic edict may quickly be challenged in court, but pastors will feel freer to violate the federal law and actively participate in coming elections with veritable impunity. With Trump’s executive order and an evangelical attorney general who says the Separation Clause in the Constitution is unconstitutional, preachers can rest easy and without fear of ever being investigated or ever losing their tax-exemption and the tens-of-billions in theocratic welfare.
One expert in church/state issues, and a law professor at Notre Dame, Richard W. Garnett, said:
“He could say something like, ‘I’m instructing the I.R.S. to respect the rights of religious institutions to participate in the public square fully. That might be symbolic. Or he can instruct the I.R.S. to ‘carve as wide a berth as possible’ and allow churches and other houses of worship to participate openly in campaigns for political candidates without any repercussions.”
Still, that is not going to sate the lust for power driving the evangelical movement’s intent to impose a theocracy on Americans; that is the real meaning of “the rights of religious institutions [churches] to participate in the public square fully.”
It is no surprise that the greedy evangelicals expected much more in remuneration for their electoral support for Trump’s candidacy than freedom to violate IRS rules with impunity. What they demanded was Trump “dictate” compliance with a draft of a religious liberty executive order that surfaced in February. One of the abominations in that soon-to-come religious order allowed churches, religious-affiliated colleges and privately-held corporations to stop offering contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans if it violated the Catholic Church’s dogma banning sex without the intent to produce offspring.
That same draft order would allow religious-affiliated adoption agencies to reject placing orphans with same-sex couples due to religion. In fact, that same evangelical’s dream order allowed “hospice providers to refuse visitation to the same-sex spouse of someone in their care. It also permits housing programs that receive federal funds to refuse to accept a gay, lesbian or bisexual teenager into the program;” all because of evangelicals’ bastardized interpretation of the Christian religion.
If anyone thinks the religious right will be satisfied with anything less than complete dominance over the government, the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow specializing in religious liberty, Ryan T. Anderson said Trump’s order today and the upcoming religious liberty order “will at least be a good first step.”
American civil liberty groups see this transfer of power to theocratic groups as “blatantly unconstitutional and an unprecedented license to discriminate.” The legal director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Sarah Warbelow said “Freedom of religion does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, harm others, or to discriminate.”
Ms. Warbelow is right, of course, according to the U.S. Constitution. But this is Donald Trump’s America and like their corrupt hero, evangelical fanatics in the religious right do not acknowledge the Constitution’s authority any more than they acknowledge the right of Americans to live in a secular democracy. And, it is noteworthy to mention again that this imposition of theocracy is due in large part to Democrats and the media, including most liberal media, who fear of uttering the words “religious imposition” as the driving force behind most Republican anti-social legislation.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.