“Religion and Government are certainly very different things, instituted for different Ends… While these are kept distinct and apart, the peace and welfare of society is preserved, and the ends of both are answered. By mixing them together, feuds, animosities and persecutions have been raised, which have deluged the world in blood, and disgraced human Nature.”
These words of Founding Father John Dickinson — who wrote the Articles of Confederation and was instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. constitution’s Anti-Establishment Clause — speak to the doctrines of a secular state. However, for a country where religion is meant to be extraconstitutional, the devotion to a Christian God features with invasive prominence in all branches of American government: legislative, administrative, and judicial.
“In God We Trust.”
In 1957, during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, a devout Presbyterian, the country’s original 1782 motto — “E Pluribus Unum,” the Latin for “Out of many, one” — was replaced with the words “in God we trust.” The Pledge of Allegiance was amended to require the speaker to devote themselves to one nation “under God.”
There’s no ambiguity as to which God the American government favors, as evidenced by the use of the Christian religious text – the Bible – during swearing-in ceremonies. For ultra-religious people like Neil Gorsuch, can we be confident that his spiritual beliefs won’t influence his judicial decisions?
The Party of Reason and Progress (PORP) is a registered 527 political organization that was constituted in response to the election of President Donald J. Trump. Founded by renowned Atheist and scientific skeptic David G. McAfee, PORP’s mission is to promote and uphold evidence-based political decisions in the United States.
But why, now more than ever, do we need critical thinkers like David McAfee?
Donald Trump, who is not a particularly religious man, has allowed himself to be surrounded by a core group of lawmakers and top White House aides who are about as Christian as you can get. This poses a grave threat to the notion of a state that is separate from the church.
Some readers may be thinking this is an alarmist view, and that the American government is far from declaring the United States an official kingdom of God. However, there are many indefinite ways in which religion can work its way into a secular government’s policies. Trump’s inner sanctum is so evangelized that it’s happening right now, right before our eyes.
Yeah right, you say? Keep reading.
The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, describes himself as being a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Pence adds that “my Christian faith is the principle characteristic of my life.”
A blatant transgression of the Establishment Clause, which explicitly prohibits any government employee from uttering rhetoric that favors one religion over another, is evident in Mike Pence’s speech at the 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference.
“The future of conservatism demands that we stand for the traditional definition of marriage. Marriage was ordained by God and instituted in law. It is the glue of the American family and the safest harbor to raise children. Conservatives must defend traditional marriage by passing the Federal Marriage Amendment.”
Pence has advocated for state-sponsored conversion therapy to “to change their sexual behavior.” Apart from his utter contempt for homosexuals, Pence also supports the criminalization of abortion and domestic surveillance being conducted without a FISA warrant.
Pence believes that “education is a function” of not only the state but also the church. Accordingly, the evangelical politician has advocated for Congress to “support education choice vouchers” policies that are just as high on the agenda of the current Secretary of Education.
Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education is one Betsy DeVos, who is married to Dick DeVos, and both are well-known Christian philanthropists in their home state of Michigan. As members of the Christian Reformed Church, the excessively wealthy DeVos dynasty — founders of the Amway Corporation — is revered as a prolific donor to the Michigan Republican Party.
In 2001, Betsy and Dick DeVos were interviewed by The Gathering, a Christian philanthropy group. Betsy was asked about the necessity for school vouchers, and for a person now working for a secular government, her answer was nothing short of astounding.
“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education… Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”
As reported by the Daily Kos, the primary concerns of the DeVos family include the “rejection of the historic principles of separation of church and state,” a call for an official declaration of America as a “Christian Nation,” school vouchers for private religious education, “Evangelical centric prayer and curriculum in public schools,” and for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public.
Now keep in mind that these are the people who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political investments within the Republican Party. It’s hard to imagine that the DeVos donations don’t come with certain conditions.
Nevertheless, Betsy, as education secretary, is moving forward swiftly with the DeVos agenda for education. Earlier this year, the Council of National Policy, a conservative policy advocacy group that purports not to be involved in political lobbying, produced a five-page manifesto focusing on education.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the list of group members included the DeVos name. Although Betsy was not identified, her mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, has previously served on the board, and her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., served two terms as the president of the council. Moreover, Richard, the founder of Amway, has donated significant sums of money to the group.
The list also revealed, quite startlingly, that Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon and Trump’s presidential advisor, Kellyanne Conway, have both served on the council’s executive body.
The council’s policy manifesto titled the “Education Reform Report,” advises for much reduced federal involvement in schools, as well as the promotion of “historical Judeo-Christian principles” as the foundation of curriculum objectives. The report suggests that the Ten Commandments be on display in K-12 schools and that Bible classes should be taught. They also want to abolish “secular-based sex education materials from school facilities.”
At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking what I’m thinking. But it can’t be possible in a secular government, right?
On Wednesday, April 26, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that initiated the process of reducing the role of federal government in education. As per the order, states would have much more control over what they teach in their schools. This step perfectly aligns with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s ultimate goal to “advance God’s kingdom.”
Repealing government regulations on education is a power that already falls within the ambit of DeVos’ portfolio, and she has used her powers once before to withdraw Barack Obama’s bathroom choice protection measures for transgender children. Donald Trump, who is not a particularly religious president, is none the wiser.
Donald Trump, who once claimed that climate change is a conspiracy theory cooked up by the Chinese, has very limited knowledge when it comes to environmental legislation.
Needless to say, the appointment of former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drew widespread condemnation from politicians, scientists, and environmental groups. Pruitt is a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow and also serves as a trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Not surprisingly, the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a Christian religious society made up of “scholars educating for Biblical earth stewardship,” wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump expressing their approval of Scott Pruitt as EPA head.
The society, which is deeply invested in the “proclamation and defense of the good news of salvation by God’s grace,” dismissed the opposition to Pruitt’s nomination as “exaggerated fears of human-induced global warming.” Fears, the group added, that “go well beyond the empirical evidence crucial to genuine science.”
At variance with this assertion, NASA has released a report confirming that 97 percent of climate scientists have reached a consensus that the Earth is rapidly warming. In conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA released an additional report confirming that the “Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.”
Even more alarming, NASA’s climate change website makes it explicitly clear that the “recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning.”
What’s more is that Scott Pruitt’s previous statements on climate change, as well as his history of routinely filing lawsuits that challenged environmental regulations on fossil fuels, are in diametrical contradiction with what evangelical Christians have claimed about him. Pruitt does not believe that CO2 is one of the primary contributors to climate change.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
Earlier this year, President Trump put forth a budget proposal that would have dramatically reduced the government’s custodial commitments to the environment. It was proposed that an unbelievable $50 billion be removed from the EPA budget and transferred to the defense budget.
Luckily, following nearly two months of negotiations, a new bipartisan budget was voted into law by Congress. The bill managed to safeguard most of the funding reserved for the EPA and interestingly offered additional funds for renewable-energy programs.
Unfortunately, the friendly new budget will become invalid at the end of this fiscal year, and it is expected that all of Trump’s previous cuts, and more, will be implemented to reduce future EPA spending capabilities.
Ironically, Trump’s own policies will prove disastrous in a way that hits right at home. Literally. In a study published by the American Geophysical Union, it was revealed that sea levels in Southern Florida had risen from 3 millimeters a year to 9 millimeters annually. In total, sea levels in the region had risen by more than 90 millimeters in the last 10 years.
This is bad news for Trump’s “Winter White House.” The Coastal Risk Consulting firm inspected Trump’s extravagant Mar-a-Lago getaway and found that within the next 30 years, the resort would be flooded for at least 210 days per year.
But hey, being a real-estate mogul, Trump probably already knows this and may either decide to sell while the price is hot or convert the place into an exclusive water park for the super rich.
The U.S. military has reportedly been overrun by a sharp rise in fundamentalist, evangelical Christian rhetoric, and behaviors. An anonymous source within the army recently spoke to Newsweek, saying that the level of religiously motivated bigotry had reached the point where it is now a “national security threat.”
According to a lawyer, Michael Weinstein, the Christian fanaticism spiked soon after Trump was elected as president, with the number of complaints from military personnel doubling since November last year. Weinstein is also the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
“With the advent of Trump as the commander in chief of our armed forces, MRFF has experienced a massive influx of new military and civilian personnel complaints of religion-based prejudice and bigotry, most of them coming from non-fundamentalist Christians being persecuted by their military superiors for not being ‘Christian enough’.”
Some of the charges include the blatant infusion of Protestant Christianity into therapy programs, anti-Semitism, Islamophobic attacks, anti-LGBTQI bullying, and an increase in on-base evangelizing. Weinstein adds that there is growing pressure among recruits to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.
Weinstein also reports that senior military officers stationed at a particular Airforce base, have been telling noncommissioned servicemen that they would’ve been admitted into the USAF if they can’t objectively prove that they are, at the very least, “considering the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Well folks, there it is. So what can you do to make your voice heard in the fight against faith-based policy?
David G. McAfee, a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of multiple books on religion and Atheism, has founded the Party of Reason and Progress (PORP). Some of the party’s tenets include using “rationality, not ideology, in the interest of protecting human life to the greatest extent possible.” PORP will fight to ensure that “the principle of Separation of Church and State” is “zealously” guarded.
In promoting non-partisanship, PORP will oppose “policies of any affiliation that undermine the principles of reason and respect.” Moreover, PORP strongly advocates for “scientific fact and peer-reviewed research” to be prioritized “above party lines or personal ideology,” and that “reason and not ideology must dictate policymaking.”
If you are inspired by these values, become a member of PORP to make your views count. So far various “politicians, actors, comedians, former professional athletes and more have joined the growing list of celebrities supporting PORP.”
— Khary Penebaker (@kharyp) May 15, 2017
— Joe Papp (@joepabike) May 10, 2017
Now more than ever the American ppl need political leaders who embrace & defend evidence-based policymaking. I'm supporting @TheOfficialPORP
— Kristina Wong ❄️ (@mskristinawong) May 10, 2017
— David Pakman Show (@davidpakmanshow) May 10, 2017
And then, of course, there’s always the judiciary. Americans might have to lean on the legal system more than ever before during the Trump years. No arm of government has more authority over the Constitution than the judiciary, not even President Trump.
America’s democracy is founded on a system of checks and balances. For those checks and balances to work in favor of every U.S. citizen, steeped in diversity, a secular government must be upheld at all times. A secular law comes before any God.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]