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Christian Sharia Rises Again

May 3, 2017

Auto-da-fé, 16th Century Spain

Update 5/4/17:  Trump just signed the executive order, which allows churches to engage in partisan political activity without losing their tax-exempt status. This is a very significant step toward removing the barrier between church and state. It potentially unleashes conservative megachurches (and mainstream churches like Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists) to employ their fundraising power on behalf of socially reactionary candidates. And of course, there is now no impediment to direct political advocacy from the pulpit on behalf of specific candidates or parties.

The order does not include the sweeping exemptions that were in the February draft, described below. That battle isn’t over yet, however.

Take a moment to contemplate the cynicism and irony of a man like Donald Trump, a thrice-married libertine who believes in nothing but Mammon, using and being used by the most reactionary elements of the Christian right in pursuit of a Christian theocracy. A sad day indeed. 

Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer. Yes, children, there is such a thing. It’s the day when true believers invoke divine retribution upon their political enemies–but in a loving Christian way.

According to Politico, the Trump administration has invited conservative religious leaders to the White House to commemorate the day by signing a new “freedom of religion” executive order. The order is reportedly being pushed by Mike Pence and his allies on the religious right, who have been working to revise a draft that was leaked to The Nation on February 1, but never signed. The new order is reported by those who have seen it to be very similar to the earlier one–“very, very strong”, according to a Politico source.

The earlier draft would have created sweeping exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it sought to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act. It defined religious organizations extremely broadly as “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and would protect “religious freedom” in a variety of secular transactions, such as “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

The earlier draft order specifically protected the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”

In other words, if you despise gays, all you would have to do is claim a deeply held religious conviction to exempt yourself from non-discrimination laws.

Mike Pence famously signed similar legislation when he was governor of Indiana, provoking a huge controversy and damaging backlash. Some in the religious right believe that Ivanka and Jared had a hand in leaking the earlier draft order, though no evidence of that has ever been produced. After the leak hit the press, the administration apparently decided that it was a bridge too far at the time, but the Trump’s team may now think they need something to rally the religious right after failing to repeal Obamacare and capitulating on the resolution to keep the federal government open until September.

The one big thing that is different now is that Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court. As we have noted before, Gorsuch has been highly supportive of religious exemptions to federal law, and his lower court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case was essentially upheld by the conservative majority in the SCOTUS when Scalia was still alive. Now Gorsuch sits in Scalia’s chair and is in a position to make another major ruling that could increase rights of corporations and undermine anti-discrimination law.

Maybe Trump will chicken out and back off on signing the order again, but the Christian Taliban is implacable and tireless and Mike Pence is their champion.  They will be back again and again.

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