Washington Watch: Trump’s other wall

Mr. Trump, don’t tear down that wall.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Donald Trump is going to make America Christian again, and to do that he wants to tear down a wall that has been one of this nation’s pillars.
“The Christians are being treated horribly because we have nobody to represent the Christians,” he told an Evangelical gathering last week in Washington.
“I will be the greatest representative of the Christians.”
This self-proclaimed messiah also has vowed to make it possible for Jews to say Merry Christmas and that no one will ever again have to say “Happy Holidays.”
Forget all that blather about building a brickand- mortar wall along the Mexican border; his latest obsession is tearing down the wall in the First Amendment to the Constitution that separates religion and state.
It’s hard to figure out what he means when he says “nobody” represents Christians, who are a majority of this country’s population, including more than 90 percent of the Congress and state legislatures and 100% of all presidents (not withstanding Trump’s own rabid attacks on the religion of the incumbent).
To make America Christian again he wants to repeal a 1954 amendment to the tax code by then- Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) banning charitable institutions such as churches and synagogues from engaging in partisan politics. The law would remove tax-exempt status from those organizations that endorse or oppose political candidates or contribute to their campaigns.
The Johnson Amendment has long had the strong support of most Jewish groups, notably the Reform movement, because it reinforces the principle of separation so critical to Jewish well-being in this country.
Those who would benefit most from repeal would be the wealthy mega-churches that could turn out voters and contributions in large numbers to tilt an election. Most are on the political Right, with many on the outer fringes.
His call for repeal is part of Trump’s bid for Evangelical support, which is also behind his choice of a running mate. Gov. Mike Pence, in accepting the nomination, told the GOP convention, “Who am I, Oh Lord? I’m Christian, a Conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
A New York Times profile said Pence is “an evangelical Christian and one of the country’s most outwardly religious and socially conservative legislators.”
Just what was needed for the twice-divorced, admitted adulterer and casino operator Trump to go court the party’s religious “family values” base.
E. J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist, noted the contrast between the two candidates. Hillary Clinton, unlike Trump, “is authentically religious” and her “view of the world was changed radically by her engagement with faith.” He questioned the “depth of the conviction” of politicians like Trump “whose religious commitments seem to have little connection to their lives.”
For Trump, religion is a hot button issue for appealing to the sense of victimhood on the religious Right. He went before the Value Voters Summit to declare himself a champion of religious liberty against “our media culture [which] often mocks and demeans people of faith.”
Repeal of the Johnson Amendment, he declared, could be “my greatest contribution to Christianity.”
“You are absolutely shunned if you’re an Evangelical if you want to talk religion, you lose your tax-exempt status,” Trump said. Of course, that’s false, but like his declaration of early opposition to the Iraq war, truth is the first casualty in a Trump speech.
The amendment doesn’t prevent clergy from expressing private opinions, but it does “absolutely” prohibit “organizations” from conducting political intervention in elections. Violators can lose their tax exemptions. It does not prohibit non-partisan voter education activities or encouraging people to register and vote.
Federal courts have repeatedly ruled the measure does not violate First Amendment rights of free speech.
Robert Jones, author of The End of White Christian America, said “when [Trump] says ‘make America great again,’ he’s saying, I’m going to restore power to the Christian churches.” He is appealing to the “grief” and “anger” of the “Waspy, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture” that is his base.
Trump’s strong support from white supremacists, Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis carries the same message: protecting white Christian values in their white, male Christian country.
Gov. Pence, a staunch social conservative, signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act to allow Indiana businesses to cite religious beliefs in refusing service to gay couples. He also signed one of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in the country, blocked federal funding to treat victims of HIV and AIDS, opposed gays in the military and rejected making offenses against LGBT persons hate crimes.
All in the name of religion, or at least his parochial perception of religion.
A report by the US Civil Rights Commission last week said “religious exemptions to the protection of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” such as the law signed by Gov. Pence “significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”
“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance,” said commission chairman Martin R. Castro.
There is obviously much that Trump and Pence have to learn about governing, including something president John Adams said in 1797: “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Mr. Trump, don’t tear down that wall.