Religious Freedom under a Trump Administration

Heather Greene —  November 13, 2016 — 23 Comments

UNITED STATES — The Interfaith Council for Greater Portland called to its community to gather Nov. 10 in the Pioneer Courthouse Square to rally for peace and inclusion. As Rabbi Ariel Stone said, “Today we will seize the high ground to demand from ourselves and all others the ongoing awareness and action to demonstrate that kindness is our only hope, truth our rallying flag, and that we will never stop affirming that love trumps hate.” The interfaith rally drew members of the area’s Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, First Nations and Pagan communities, and was only one of many in the immediate area. 

[Photo Credit: Matt Morris / Twitter]

T. Thorn Coyle, who offered a prayer to Brigid during the event, said, “The reason I wanted to be out last night is to make a clear statement that I stand with Muslims, with immigrants, with our trans siblings, with the poor, and with my black and brown and indigenous comrades. Leading up to and immediately following the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, hate crimes are on the rise in this country. We must work together in as many ways possible, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who are most at risk.” 

Coyle was joined by other Pagans, including Sister Krissy, Ravyn Stanfield, Blaedfyr, Crow Walker and Patrick Garretson. She noted that her aim is, as always, was “to work for love, equity, and justice, and to counter hatred and oppression.” What Coyle expressed and what is exemplified by this interfaith event is a genuine and visceral rising fear, one that was already keenly felt by many minority communities.

While the 2016 Republican platform officially reads, “We oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination,” the party’s official statement did nothing to ease the growing stress found in marginalized communities; nor did it buffer or censor Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric. (Republican Campaign Platform, p. 9)

The concerns expressed at the Portland rally are not limited to those attending individuals or any of the others protesting across country, blocking highways, and attending vigils. On Nov. 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times, which states: “If you do not reverse course and endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to content with the full firepower of the ACLU at your every step.”

aclu

In the wake of the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has created an online petition calling for Trump to renounce his campaign’s hateful rhetoric. According to the organization, there has been an unprecedented number of hate crimes reported since Nov. 9.

Similarly, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has said that “it will work vigorously to oppose any attempts by the administration of Donald J. Trump to undermine religious freedom in the United States.” In a Nov. 9 press release, AU executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn said, “Donald Trump’s rhetoric shows a shocking disregard for core principles of religious liberty […] Religious freedom is far too valuable for us to lose and far too fragile for us to leave unguarded.”

In both their public statements, the ACLU and AU noted specific campaign promises that have led to their organization’s outrage. With regard to religious freedom, what were those promises?

In the section titled “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty,” the 2016 Republican Party platform begins by stating, “The Bill of Rights lists religious liberty, with its rights of conscience, as the first freedom to be protected. Religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives.” (p. 11)

From there, the document continues on to discuss the “ongoing attempts to compel individuals, businesses, and institutions of faith to transgress their beliefs” and the “misguided effort to undermine religion and drive it from the public square.” More specifically, the platform urges the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which would remove the 1954 IRS code restricting tax-exempt entities, including religious bodies, from engaging in partisan politics. (p. 18)

This is one of the issues raised by Americans United. As its press release states, the Johnson Amendment “prohibits all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates for office,” thereby creating a definitive boundary, at least in law, between church and state.

Where does the Trump campaign and now administration stand specifically on this issue? According to Time, Republican platform committee member Tony Perkins said, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.”

The Republican Party platform goes on to endorse the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (HR 2802) (FADA) that addresses “discriminatory actions against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction.” The promise to support FADA includes a repeal of the IRS tax code, as noted above, as well as other protections for faith-based institutions. The platform reads, “[the act would] bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” As such, the platform “condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor.” (p. 11)

This is another issue specifically noted in the AU statement. As the watchdog organization suggests, FADA “would allow people who hold the religious belief that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman, or that extramarital relations are sinful, to ignore laws that conflict with that belief. Individuals, businesses, health­care providers, taxpayer-funded so­c­i­al service providers and even government employees would be allowed to use FADA to get around non-discrimination protections.”

The FADA is similar in purpose to the decades-long RFRA movements around the country. Future Vice President Mike Pence has been a vocal supporter of that movement, having signed into law one of the most publicized and notorious of RFRA acts. It was the 2015 Indiana RFRA that sparked Wiccan and ATC High Priest Dusty Dionne to speak out publicly in order to defend religious freedom. In response to overwhelming criticism, Pence said, at the time, that the Indiana RFRA law was never intended to be used as a tool for discrimination. Under pressure, Indiana’s state legislature was forced to clarify its RFRA’s original language, but those changes did not make any significant changes to the law’s premise or application.

In his 2015 book Crippled America, Trump writes, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132). In October of the same year, he reportedly told Iowa supporters, “I’m a good Christian […] If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store … You can leave happy holidays at the corner.”

Returning to the 2016 party platform, religious language can be found in many parts of the document, even outside of those devoted specifically to First Amendment concerns. However, the platform once again directly addresses religious freedom in a discussion on foreign policy. It expresses support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The document reads:

The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. (p. 59)

During the campaign, Trump himself was not silent on topics related to Daesh. He repeatedly proposed strong action against terrorism, even using the subject as a distraction during the debate. However, some of his statements veered drastically from the above stated ideal of ensuring protection for religious minorities. Americans United wrote, “Trump has also proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States or subjecting them to heightened forms of scrutiny simply because of their faith. Such a policy would violate our nation’s fundamental commitment to religious freedom.”

Since Trump’s initial 2015 statement calling for a ban, Pence has said that the administration “no longer wanted to impose a temporary ban on Muslim immigration.” In July 2016, Trump clarified his plan, explaining that the original statement was about “territory” and not religion. More recently, Pence denounced the entire proposition, saying that this was no longer Trump’s position.

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikipedia]

[Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikipedia]

Outside of policy promises, Trump’s campaign rhetoric has been very clear in its religious focus. At a September rally in Iowa, for example, he asked his supporters to raise their hands if they were Christian conservatives. “Everybody,” he said. After cheers, he followed with, “Raise your hands if you’re not a Christian conservative. I want to see this? Right. Oh, there is a couple of people. That’s all right. I think we’ll keep them. Should we keep them in the room? I think so.”

Just before the November election, the campaign released one final commercial that fueled a heated- response from the Anti-Defamation League. This would not be the first time that Trump had been accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric based on the false assumptions of a global Jewish conspiracy. After the Nov 8. election, ADL said in a press release that it “cannot and will not simply ignore the fact that this campaign brought out many of the worst elements of our society.  We saw a mainstreaming of anti-Semitism and a normalization of bigotry that deeply concerned us. […] We will not shrink from the fight ahead regardless of where it takes us.”

At the same time, the ADL also shared words of hope, saying that it is prepared to work with the president-elect and his administration “to seek the common ground and reconciliation that has been the hallmark of all presidential transitions that follow American elections.”

While not a religious-based group, the NAACP has also stated that it is watching the incoming administration. As one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the U.S., the NAACP offered congratulations to the newly elected president, but added: “[We] must bluntly note that the 2016 campaign has regularized racism, standardized anti-Semitism, de-exceptionalized xenophobia and mainstreamed misogyny.”

While implementation of the more extreme policies and promises may not be possible and any attempts will quickly be countered by the many U.S. civil rights organizations, the rhetoric fueling Trump’s success continues to linger in the minds of many Americans, who now are asking, “Where do we go from here?”

For Pagans, Lady Liberty League (LLL) stands behind its policies of inclusiveness and will stand ready to discuss any legal issues or religious freedom concerns that do arise in the coming months or beyond. Rev. Selena Fox added that LLL has seen an increase in reports over the past year and, as a result, LLL has been restructured in order to handle them. Anyone needing assistance can reach the organization through its website.

As unstable as the U.S. appears to be at this point, the NAACP ended its press release on a positive note, echoing an idea that is similar to the message coming out of the local Portland interfaith rally and the new hashtag action #lovetrumpshate. The NAACP wrote: “Our beauty as a country shines brighter than the ugliness of this election. It is up to all of us to reveal the beauty of who we are as a people as we yet see the possibilities of the nation we can become.”

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • In God We Trust

    Oh the cognitive dissonance! Trump won the election. Get over it!

    • Macha NightMare

      More of us voted for Clinton, so how is he elected? Is the Electoral College the kind of rigged voting Trump was whining about?

      • Franklin_Evans

        There are plenty of “archaic” aspects to our founding documents that need attention and adjustments to bring them into our modern context. There are inherent loopholes that have enough room for corrupt uses and outcomes. I suggest to you, with admiration for your spirit as well as respect for you personally, that those things are also the foundation of the strength of our republic.

        The first motivation for the electoral college was state sovereignty. The smaller ones first complaint was being marginalized in any total popular vote, and it informed the dynamics of the ratification of the Constitution to begin with.

        My point is that there are valid, rational arguments on both sides. It can certainly be argued that small states don’t deserve that sort of balancing. There’s also the middle ground exemplified by Maine, whose electoral votes are awarded by congressional district instead of winner take all in the state.

        It should also be noted that the electoral college having the decision on who is elected president serves to support the concept of non-violent changes in power. If anything, absent the valid concerns about the integrity of the electoral college voting, it is a direct and appropriate reflection of a representative republic needing to balance what Tocqueville termed the tyranny of the majority.

        I hasten to add that none of this changes my intense distrust of Trump, and his clear track record of broken oaths. Indeed, one of the clearest paths to his impeachment is what he does after taking his oath of office, and how (as implied by the ACLU’s stance) several of them will be in violation of that oath.

      • Katherine Ross

        The elections ARE rigged, but not in the way Trump thinks.

        They are rigged to keep third parties out.

    • kenofken

      Yes, just like Trump’s base got over Obama’s two wins. Salt-of-the Earth good sports one and all, those alt.right folks.And thank God too, for without their magnanimity and respect for the process, they might easily have descended into a vicious and bitter partisan insurgency obsessed with casting the president not merely as a political opponent, but evil incarnate. In this most challenging decade of a new century, we might have become bogged down in spurious tin-foil hat conspiracy theories about the president’s citizenship or religion or core allegiance.

      We could have let the country’s pressing business languish in favor or factional maneuvering. We could have seen the rise of a full time industry built around politicizing and even criminalizing every decision and action the president took in office. People could have gotten really loony with things by panic buying guns and ammunition for years on end resulting in shortages and massive price spikes.We might have entered this election cycle in a really toxic state had Obama’s opponents not learned to agree to disagree on things and unify as Americans. It’s only fair to ask the same now from Democrats.

      Seriously though, there is nothing more pathetic, more amusing and more American than righteous indignation and appeals to fair play by nihilists. The same people demanding that everyone accept the will of the voters are the same ones who, just over one week ago, declared the process hopelessly rigged and corrupt and stated before a single vote was even counted that they would not accept the results had they gone the other way. Some, including the president elect, spoke darkly of “Second Amendment solutions” as a remedy – ie civil war and terrorism.

      Say what you will about fascists. You may not like what they do or how they do it, but nobody comes close in raw chutzpah.

  • The man has not even been sworn in yet. Nobody knows what he’s going to do. Some this this same stuff was going around about both Bush the Elder and Bush League, it didn’t happen.

    Personally I’m a little tired of being lectured about which Tragic Victim Group I’m supposed to genuflect before to show my compassion this week. The second someone escalates their victimhood over all others because of a label is the second I lose interest. Might-be-victims are even less interesting.

    You have rights because you are human.. Not because you are gay or transgender. Not because you are pagan or Navajo. And not because you are a man or a woman. Because you are human.

    I won’t defend rights because of labels. I won’t fight for privilege that comes at the expense of others. I won’t acknowledge group rights. I won’t accept responsibility for things I didn’t do or say.

    I won’t feed the victimhood anymore. But I WILL take a stand for human rights. Talk to me when someone has been denied their human rights and we’ll see what we can do then. If that’s not enough, I can’t help you.

    Until then, it hasn’t happened and I’m not going to worry about it.

  • Speaking of actual events, how many here know about H.R.5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act?

    It takes money and land from the Ute tribe and transfers it to the state of Utah. It also takes some money from the Navajo tribe. It gives control over much of the remaining Ute land to Utah for recreational and public use.

    It also predates Trump’s nomination and election.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    We will see where the Trump Followers really stands as we face the hate crimes already started. Will they just deny that it is starting, or will they stand with us to protect people. If not then we know them for the enemy we must defend against. Meanwhile we start building more and stronger support and solidarity networks and start organizing. The ability to organize, link together, while each not requiring a leader to order them, that will be our strength. Only23% of the possible voters voted for Trump. He had a minority of the popular vote, so his people are not the majority by far. Both Trump supporters and Clinton supporters only represent 47% of the voters.

  • Andy Stout

    Nicely done, Heather.

  • Sage

    I am a 56 year old female Wiccan. I do not feel threatened or marginalized or discriminated against by Donald Trump or Mike Pence. I listened very carefully to things said on the campaign trail. I’ve researched extensively Trump’s past and his interactions with a broad group of people from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicity. I believe that if you panicked people would turn down the volume of your “expected victimhood” in your minds you would be able to sort out what the man has actually said as opposed to what his opponents and the media said he said. You can say Happy Holidays. Joyous Yule. Merry Christmas. Who cares? An entire section of the population has been pushed to STOP saying Merry Christmas! Now that section of the population is standing up for their rights to say and observe how they want. Tell me, exactly what gives YOU the right to tell them they can’t do what you, yourself are fighting for in your own spiritual path? And as for immigrants, NO ONE has said immigrants were not welcome here. No. One. Just because he wants EXISTING IMMIGRATION LAWS to be enforced, which includes proper vetting of refugees you all have transformed that into “he hates all non whites and will deport them all!” Seriously, folks, get a damn grip already! And while you’re at it, do some actual research. For instance, find out about the people he is selecting for his cabinet. Don’t just read the headlines. Really, truly learn about them. Find out what percentage of women are in top positions in his companies and what they are paid. Compare that to other similar companies.
    There will always be loony people out there that will use any excuse they can to be cruel and cause harm to others, whatever their twisted reasoning. But if you’ll do your homework you will see that THOSE PEOPLE are the ones responsible for their actions. Not the incoming administration.
    Stop trying so hard to be a victim. Love your people. Follow your spiritual path. Do your work. Live your life. And give the incoming POTUS a chance to do his job.

    • I do believe you have earned that Disqus nickname today.

    • Franklin_Evans

      The first tool in marketing is convincing the consumers to buy despite their rational view of the product. Get them to decide on their feelings first. Most of them will simply ignore the rational objections to it.

      Every politician knows this. Every politician’s campaign staff focuses on it or fails. Since Trump is the one who was elected, we focus on his manipulations of the feelings of voters. Certainly some of us can be labeled paranoid (or panicked), but many of us have rational memory of actual experiences, personally or witnessed, to lend credibility to our fears. This is not something one “gets over”. It is something that requires time, distance and the ability to bring rational balance back to stand with the emotions, rather than behind or against them.

      I’m very unhappy about the Clinton campaign in general. I suppose I can’t write the following without pointing that out.

      Trump used the politics of fear at every major point. You, Sage, open yourself to a charge of hypocrisy — or worse, “it can’t be true because it didn’t happen to me” — if you fail to acknowledge how fear drove people to vote for him. I’m glad you don’t feel threatened or marginalized. I’m very unhappy that you in turn dismiss the actual injury I’ve experience and witnessed. If you want those of us with cause to tone it down, you are similarly challenged to meet us half way. If you don’t want us projecting our fears on you, then don’t project your experiential ignorance on us.

      • Tauri1

        Trump’s message was what P.T. Barnum said: “There’s a sucker born every minute” and Trump suckered in the white rural population by making them think he could bring back the 1950s. Jobs were lost not because of moving to other countries, although that exacerbated it, but because of automation, which began in the 1970s and continues today.

      • Macha NightMare

        Indeed! Ask an older woman like me what it was like to have no birth control (pre-pill, which was only Rx to married women), no safe legal abortions, ostracism of unmarried mothers (even divorced ones), no mandatory child support from fathers, secrecy and shame associated with adoption on both sides. And that’s just one little issue — women’s reproductive freedom. One could write an endless list of offenses and lack of rights and freedoms.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      An entire section of the population has been pushed to STOP saying Merry Christmas!This is nonsense. Retail clerks in some chains have been instructed to say “Happy Holidays” so that no customers will feel marginalized. What people say to one another as individuals as holiday greetings has not been and cannot be regulated. You reveal yourself to be have drunk the “war on Christmas” Kool-Aid and that makes me wonder about your claim to be Wiccan.

      • Katherine Ross

        Only on the job would they be required to say “happy holidays” – not once they clock out.

        Oops, hit the wrong “reply” – oh well. Put it down to me being flaky today due to allergy medications.

    • kenofken

      “I am a 56 year old female Wiccan. I do not feel threatened or
      marginalized or discriminated against by Donald Trump or Mike Pence..”

      I’m a middle aged, middle class white suburban guy. I don’t feel threatened or marginalized or discriminated against by the police. I guess we can just declare everything Hunky and Dory, thank the civil liberties activists and send them home with a Starbuck’s gift card (the Merry Christmas theme, naturally).

      If you’ve truly listened to Trump’s own words and you can’t see any legitimate reason for concerns about religious liberty, you’re either working for him or you’ve built the heaviest blinders that personal privilege can buy. This isn’t about the Pagan community only, or even primarily. Trump’s statements on Muslims are not limited to the topic of immigration and vetting. He has stated that he would entertain ideas to maintain a national database and special ID cards for Muslims and routine surveillance of their houses of worship.

      He was not talking about specific situations where fighting age guys with known terrorists connections and weird travel histories show up at ports of entry. He was talking about targeting Muslims as a national security threat because they are Muslim. If you don’t see a problem with that, I’m curious to know what exactly it would take to set of your alarm bells on this issue? Would you in all honesty be OK living under these measures because of your faith? Would Christians? (I tend to think not, given that wishes of a “Happy Holiday” amounts to hideous persecution on their scale.)

      Some will say that Trump isn’t serious about his more extreme suggestions, and perhaps he just says them for effect and to throw some red meat to the fringes. Even if that’s the case, that does not begin to make it ok in my book. Cynical manipulation of extreme nationalism and hate for political gain is something which should not even be in the margins of the playbook for any leader of a democracy. It is reckless and it will get people killed sooner or later, and he will bear a share of responsibility for that even though the primary fault will lie only with the perpetrators.

      I will take your admonition to follow my spiritual path in all of this. It would be an obscene abandonment of my spirituality if I did not have deep concerns about this man in regards to religious minorities. His deeds as a candidate do not speak well of him. He will have a four year chance to change that as a president. I don’t think my initial assessment of him will be far different, but I hope to be wrong for all of our sakes.

  • Wolfsbane

    Trump was elected for one simple reason. Hillary is the Democrat’s Dick Cheney. A self serving opportunist who is beholden to special interests who are not in sync with the American people’s best interest. The American middle class did not want her in power.

    It used to be that American politicians when they realized they had screwed up badly, knew enough to remove themselves from the public arena for the good of their party and their country.

    “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” –Lyndon Johnson 1968

    But not anymore. Today’s politicians are arrogant, entitled, self absorbed and believe that the world revolves around them. That’s BOTH parties.

    The American middle class decided they rather have a buffoon who was a known quantity than a disingenuous snake in the grass who was not. They believe that Trump will not be able to get what he’s suggested doing through Congress because his party will not support it.

    • Tauri1

      All this started in the 1990s when Bill Clinton decided to abandon the Democrats’ traditional focus on the marginalized in society to win the election because of Reagan’s and the Republicans’ winning the election. Then the Republicans came up with “trickle down” (read: piss on) economics which did NOTHING for the average person but started the path to having 2% of the population owning 90% of the wealth in this country.

      To quote George Santayana, “He who does not learn the *lessons* of history are doomed to repeat it.” In this country our attention has always been short, even more so now with kids growing up with texting, videos and movies that move the plot along at an incredible rate of speed compared to the 1950s and 60’s. The result is an attention span that lasts less than one minute and so no one is looking at the long view of history to see where things are going. To me, this election and Trump’s rhetoric smacks of the same kind of rhetoric that Hitler used in the 1930s and that makes me shudder.

      • Wolfsbane

        The difference being Bill was a rank amateur at it while Hillary is a grand master.

        Gore Vidal was correct when he said “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.”

  • Katherine Ross

    omg we got through the Bush years….geez…

    • mptp

      4852 of us did not.

  • g75401

    Ah, the wingnut trolls have found the Wild Hunt. First rule, do not feed them. They speak from only one belief system, that,by attempting to include women and minorities, we have somehow “victimized” white men and their allies (namely their wives) LOL. Remember, the strong can afford to be gentle, the weak never will be.