News Release

Trump and Right “Hijacking” Religious Freedom

FREDERICK CLARKSON, F.Clarkson at politicalresearch.org, @FredClarkson
Clarkson is senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a think tank in Somerville, Mass. He is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle between Theocracy and Democracy, and editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America.

Clarkson said today in response to Trump’s just-released presidential proclamation commemorating Religious Freedom Day: “President Trump has joined the Christian Right in invoking religious freedom to justify its attack on the civil, human, and religious rights of others.

“Trump commemorated Religious Freedom Day, January 16, by issuing a presidential proclamation that reinforces the Christian Right’s claim that religious freedom affords people the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, as well as consent for federal agencies, departments, contractors, and grantees to discriminate in their employment practices. (As set forth in a recent guidance from the Department of Justice.) Trump also blurs the federal non-profit tax code that proscribes electioneering by tax-exempt groups, including churches. He suggests that this violates the religious freedom of those who bend and break the law.”When we hear politicians and religious or interest-group leaders go on about how religious freedom is a ‘cherished; or ‘treasured’ value, let’s ask them to get real. Religious freedom is not a lovely antique, a family heirloom, or a relic of a bygone era. It is a dynamic, progressive value that underlies every other constitutional freedom we have — and it is under siege.

“A close look at the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and its role in shaping our constitutional approach to religion and government, exposes the lie of Christian nationalism in a way that allows us to clear away the fog of the long, slow religious war they are waging in America. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took a stand for religious equality for all — asserting that one’s religious identity would neither advantage nor disadvantage someone in their rights as a citizen.

“In fact, religious freedom is a powerful, inspiring, and authentically revolutionary idea. It is imperative that we not allow the Christian Right and Donald Trump to hijack it to revive the theocratic governance their ancestors lost when the Virginia Statute, the Constitution, and the First Amendment set the stage for a more democratic future.”

His work in this area was recently featured in a major article on Salon. He also recently published an interview with historian John Ragosta about the Virginia Statute at Religion Dispatches.