Two weeks ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” to help protect the right of every American “to believe, worship and exercise their faith in the public square.” Religious liberty … what exactly does that mean? To me, it means the right of every person to believe as he or she sees fit, to belong to any church of their choice, or none at all. It is, as I see it, an individual ‘right’. It is not, however, the right to inflict your own beliefs upon others.
George Marsden, a religious historian at the University of Notre Dame, describes religious liberty as ‘inclusive pluralism’, a society in which no religion is preferred over another, and all believers can worship as they see fit. Sounds about right, don’t you think?
But by Trump’s, Sessions’ and the evangelical’s definition, it changes to connote freedoms and privileges granted mostly to Christians — specifically, the white conservative Christians who form a vital part of the Republican base. Instead of inclusive pluralism, it now stands for exclusive primacy of the Christian faith. Politicized religion.
In 2016, as he stumped along the campaign trail, Trump met with a large group of nearly 1,000 evangelicals, and here is what he said …
“This is such an important election. And I say to you folks because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately, the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back.”
I have two questions:
- Why should any religious group have ‘power and influence’ in a secular government? Or society?
- What the Sam Heck did the government “weed” away from the evangelicals?
In the same meeting, he also promised them that they would be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again. Excuse me, but nobody ever said they couldn’t!!! Some businesses asked their employees to use “Happy Holidays” instead, as a courtesy to those of us who are not Christians, but are Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists, but nobody stopped anybody from saying “Merry Christmas”!
Then, to add insult to injury, Trump promised them that if they voted him into office, he would abandon the Johnson Amendment that forbids tax-exempt organizations from campaigning for a political candidate. It doesn’t say that members of a church cannot campaign for a candidate as individuals, only that the church itself cannot endorse a specific candidate if they wish to maintain their tax-exempt status. It is intended to keep religion out of politics – remember the concept of ‘separation of church and state’?
And that is precisely what he did with the religious liberty executive order he signed in May, bypassing Congress altogether … again. Not that it would have mattered, for when he says “Jump!”, the boot-lickers in Congress ask “How high?” And when he signed the bloody order, he commented, “We are giving our churches their voices back.” They. Never. Lost. Their. Voices.
Only about 70% of the American public profess to be Christian. What about the other 30% of us? Religious liberty as defined by this administration and its supporters is liberty only for white Christians. In a recent Supreme Court decision, the Court granted Christian business owners the right to refuse service to LGBT people. The next logical step is that Christian business owners will be granted the right to refuse service to a Jew, or a Muslim, or a non-believer. Perhaps business owners will be allowed to refuse service to African-Americans … or Latinos.
Envision a nation where your drivers’ license has a section for religion. For gender orientation. Remember Trump’s comment a week or so ago about having to have a photo ID to buy groceries? Maybe he was projecting into the future he envisions where an ID distinguishing religion, ethnicity, gender identification, and length of toenails are revealed. Or perhaps … or perhaps all non-Christians will just wear a yellow star and have a number tattooed on their forearm like the one my Uncle Leon had.
Far-fetched? Maybe, but … seemingly innocuous phrases like “religious liberty” and “family values” have become buzzwords for discrimination against any whose ideas or lifestyles differ from the Christian community. It has become harsh and discriminatory. ‘Values’ and ‘Liberty’ have somehow become something very ugly.
When Sessions announced his ‘task force’, he had a little celebratory ceremony … yes, by all means, let’s celebrate widespread discrimination! He made a comment that was neither true nor sensible, referring to “nuns ordered to buy contraception” under President Obama. To set the record straight, no nun in the history of the U.S. has ever been forced to buy contraceptives under any president! And guess who was the guest speaker at Sessions’ little celebration? None other than the bigoted Jack Phillips, the baker in Nevada who was so offended at being asked to place a topper with two men atop a wedding cake that he went all the way to the Supreme Court and forever changed the face of the nation.
I recently read an OpEd that said the founding fathers would not recognize the definition of ‘religious liberty’ in this, the 21st century. To be honest, I don’t recognize it myself. We have taken “white Christian privilege” too far, and this nation is headed down a very dangerous path. It is one you can find in the history books if you go back to the early 1930s in Europe.