Trump Wants to Abolish Laws That Separate State and Religion
Separation of Church and State, and Its Misunderstandings
The annual National Prayer Breakfast was held in the U.S. on the 2nd February. The National Prayer Breakfast is a religious event attended by over 3500 political, military and business leaders who gather together in prayer.
At this gathering, President Trump said he was going to “totally destroy the Johnson Amendment”, which is the law that restricts religious groups from engaging in political campaign activities.
For a long time, religious people have criticized the Johnson Amendment for restricting free speech rights for religious leaders.
The Johnson Amendment is a tax code provision proposed by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and signed in 1954.
It prohibits tax exempt non-profit organisations, including the church, from conducting partisan political campaign activities. This includes making public their support for or opposition towards candidates for public office. If a religious group breaks this restriction they could lose their tax exempt status.
Trump vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow [religious] representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution”. But Trump has a difficult task in front of him: he must convince Congress to repeal the Amendment.
“Freedom Is a Gift from God”, Says Trump
Since his election campaign, Trump has made public his desire to widen the role that faith plays in the public sphere.
The press has commented that this is a strategy to appeal to powerful right-wing Christians. They think that Trump’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast was aimed at his wealthy Christian supporters who propelled him to victory in the election.
But put in context, his ‘destroy the Johnson Amendment’ speech was filled with veneration for the church:
“We are not just flesh and bone and blood, we are human beings with souls. Our republic was formed on the basis that freedom is not a gift from government, but that freedom is a gift from God . . . Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs.”
To Trump, the Johnson Amendment prevents the church from entering politics, and therefore restricts the freedom given to each person by God.
The True Meaning of “All Men Are Created Equal”
In Trump’s speech, he also said “The people in this room come from many, many backgrounds. You represent so many religions and so many views. But we are all united by our faith, in our creator and our firm knowledge that we are all equal in His eyes.”
The Constitution of America contains the words “All men are created equal”. At the time of the founding of the U.S., the prevailing idea was that ‘all white males were created equal’.
Trump’s challenge now is whether he can unite the nation under faith towards the Creator God in light of the deep divisions that have developed around the US’s immigration problems and race issues. There is a need to change the meaning behind the statement, “All men are created equal”.
The American Contradiction: A Religious Superpower That Separates Church and State
The U.S. was founded upon the Puritan faith brought over by the settlers who arrived on the continent on the ship, the Mayflower. It is the perfect example of a ‘religious state’.
The Constitution declares the separation of church and state, but the interpretation of this is the opposite of how it is understood now; it means that ‘state authorities are prohibited from intervening on church matters’.
A quote from Alexander Hamilton, one of the people who wrote the Constitution, says:
“I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”
Like his predecessors, President Trump has looked to the Bible for answers. It shows us that religion and politics is inseparable.
Religion has a duty not only to save individual people, but to reform society for the better. If religion finds that the political system is going in the wrong direction, it has a role to correct it. It is time to release religion from the shackles that separate it from state.