Saturday, February 20, 2016

Trump and the religion card

John Nichols (The Nation) reframes the Trump/Pope hype: It’s Not Trump Versus the Pope, It’s Trump Versus Secularism. "The billionaire is at odds with a historic American commitment to religious pluralism and separation of church and state."

Donald Trump does wrap himself in the flag, but also intends on carrying the cross into the White House - against American tradition of freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Here are snippets from Nichols' post.

... Trump took the moral pronouncement from a religious leader and immediately turned it into campaign fodder. The perpetually offended candidate, of course, took offense. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian,” the billionaire announced as he campaigned in South Carolina, where he is mounting an over-the-top campaign for the votes of evangelical Christians. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

... What was far more significant was the next thing that Trump said.

“I’m proud to be a Christian,” he announced, “and as president, I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now with out current president, OK? Believe me.”

There is no doubt that Trump is a master of media manipulation with his bombastic and baseless remarks. But your have to wonder exactly what is implied by "I will not allow".

Trump’s reaction to a statement from Pope Francis on a matter of faith and policy—which, it should be noted, is something that religious leaders opine upon quite frequently—went in another direction. The billionaire declared that he would use his presidency to protect Christianity—extending on a theme he has developed in recent weeks. As The Washington Post reports, in a recent appearance in South Carolina, “Trump argued that he would be the better guardian of Christian values, before saying: “Christianity is being chopped away at. Chop, chop, chop.”

There is nothing wrong with showing concern for any religious grouping that needs protection. But there is something unsettling about politicians positioning themselves as guardians of a particular group’s religious values.

The United States was founded on the premise that there ought be no religious test for those who seek positions of authority, and on the ideal that all practitioners of all religions should be free to follow their faith. To that end, Thomas Jefferson explained to the Danbury Baptists that “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

... In his brilliant 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, John F. Kennedy announced as a contender for the presidency that “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

Kennedy would less than two months later be elected as the nation’s first Catholic president. He did not reject his faith, but he did object to the notion that any Catholic prelate or Protestant minister “would tell his parishioners for whom to vote” and his belief that “no [individual should be] denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.”

What we need are more 2016 candidates who are willing to say, as Kennedy did in 1960, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Pope Francis is not in the business of telling people how to vote and Donald Trump and the other GOP candidates should not be in the business of preferential treatment of any one religion over another. It is hard to do when the candidates rely on one religion for their votes, but they should stop playing the religion card.

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