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At the National Prayer Breakfast this week, President Donald Trump promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, one of the many US laws that protects separation of church and state. The Johnson Amendment was proposed by Lyndon Johnson and enacted by a Republican congress and president in 1954. It prevents tax-exempt organizations from endorsing a particular politician over another, and that includes churches (though churches weren’t the original target).
Polls show that most Americans don’t want their religious leaders using their sermons to endorse candidates, but many religious leaders do want that. It works out well for them, because they can encourage their dedicated flock to vote for politicians who will continue to funnel government money to them, or for politicians who will continue to erode the separation of church and state in a way that benefits them.
That last bit is important: “in a way that benefits them.” Religious people with a knowledge of history understand that keeping the government out of religion is beneficial to the religious as it prevents discrimination. The Religious Right, though, has spent decades focused on tearing down our democracy and establishing an actual theocracy in which their religion, evangelical Christianity, is a central tenet of the government in exactly the same way that Islam was made a central tenet of the government of Iran in 1979.
The Christian theocrats knows that right now, they’re the top dog and so when the separation of Church and State is destroyed, any state discrimination will be against other religions. But Muslims and Jews and atheists and more intelligent and compassionate Christians know that for a start, we should protect all people whether they’re the majority or not, and also that today’s majority is tomorrow’s oppressed minority.
Judging from Donald Trump’s past statements, I seriously doubt he’s a Christian or has any concept of what the Religious Right is trying to do. I think that he’s been played, because he’s an idiot. He sees that a substantial group of wealthy people will support him if he says that he’s going to destroy separation of Church and State, so he says it, and he’ll do it. He doesn’t care about the topics they care about, like abortion, but he’ll do what they want so that he can keep being president. The Religious Right are hardly the only group manipulating him, as evidenced by the role of Russia and various special interests in Trump’s election and first week in office, but they may actually end up causing the most long-term damage.
America has enjoyed separation of Church and State for a few somewhat rocky centuries–it’s literally one of the main reasons why many white people came here in the first place. Destroying the Johnson Amendment won’t turn us into present-day Iran, but it may be just the first of many moves to come designed to appease the Religious Right. Trump has only been in office for two weeks–imagine what more he can and will do to advance the goal of turning America into a theocracy.
In fact, a document has just leaked showing Trump’s plan to allow people and organizations to once again start discriminating against anyone they’d like due to their religious beliefs. Legal experts say that the proposed legislation exceeds the reach of the executive branch and takes a giant shit on the First Amendment. That’s a legal term, by the way. A giant shit.
So if you’re an atheist who has been on the sidelines watching women and people of color protesting this administration, get ready. They’re coming for the secularists.