Trump’s picks a threat to church/state issues

Evangelicals who pushed Donald Trump over the top in the election are surely pleased with several of his appointments to the cabinet and other high-ranking positions in his administration.

Trump promised to be "the greatest representative of the Christians," and he seems to be heading in that direction. Before even being elected, he chose Mike Pence as a running mate, a man who denies evolution and has voted to restrict LGBT rights based on "religious freedom." Trump has also appointed several other religious fundamentalists who pose a threat to church/state separation.

Here's a look at a number of them.

Betsy DeVos

A staunchly Christian woman who wants to "advance God's Kingdom" has become the head of the U.S. Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos has been critical of public schools for decades and is a major proponent of the voucher system, which takes money from the public schools and moves it to private — usually religious — education institutions.

She and her husband, Dick (whose father co-founded Amway) are billionaire philanthropists, and have made it clear that their faith motivates their decisions on education reform.

"This is a significant threat to the separation of state and church," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott says. "We know from state voucher programs that the overwhelming beneficiary of these programs are not students, but are instead the churches and parochial schools that take in public money."

According to Politico, the DeVoses assert school choice leads to "greater Kingdom gain." They "lament that public schools have 'displaced' the church as the center of communities, and they cite school choice as a way to reverse that troubling trend."

Betsy DeVos has used biblical terms to criticize public schools, "referring to her crusade to fund religious schools as a 'Shephelah,' a Hebrew term referring to an area where battles were fought in the Old Testament," Politico writes.

"Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God's Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory," Betsy DeVos said during a 2001 meeting of "The Gathering," an annual conference of some of the country's wealthiest Christians.

"The decision to appoint DeVos to this post signifies a serious attack on public education," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. "As the top education official in the United States, she can be expected to do everything in her power to take taxpayer money from public schools and send it to private religious schools."

Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, explained to the Washington Post the anxiety many have about DeVos as education secretary: "We strongly urge Congress to scrutinize the record of Betsy DeVos, who has been a staunch proponent of school vouchers, a misguided idea that diverts taxpayer dollars into private and parochial schools and perverts the bedrock American value of separation of church and state."

According to Politico, the DeVoses adhere to the Calvinist view of Christianity. Richard Israel, a professor of the Old Testament at Vanguard University in California, said Calvinists see it as the work of Christians to influence culture.

"Their view of the Christian mission isn't to be in the fortress and hold out against the pagans, but to engage culture from a Christian worldview and transform it," Israel told Politico.

Ben Carson

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson will be heading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, called Carson "woefully unqualified."

While that may be true, it's his stance on state/church issues that should have all Americans even more worried. Carson has denounced the notion of separation of church and state.

"We Americans must be proud of who we are. We cannot give away our values and principles for the sake of political correctness," he said while still a candidate for the presidency. "There are those who go around proclaiming separation of church and state. You can't put anything up that has anything to do with God. ... I'll have a seizure if I see a cross, and all of this kind of crap. The fact of the matter is — do they realize that our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, says we have certain unalienable rights given to us by our creator, aka God."

Carson gave a telling response to Justin Scott, an FFRF member from Iowa who asked state/church questions of the presidential candidates during the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses.
"Fortunately, our Constitution, the supreme law of the land, was designed by men of faith, and it has a Judeo-Christian foundation. Therefore, there is no conflict there. So it is not a problem," Carson told Scott.

Scott Pruitt

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, no friend to the environment, is now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

FFRF has tussled several times with Pruitt, an active promoter of oil, fossil fuels and fracking who has openly opposed the EPA and calls climate change a "hoax." Pruitt has also gone out of his way to target FFRF.

"This is yet another cabinet nomination that would involve the fox guarding the chicken coop," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Pruitt's not only a theocrat on civil liberties issues, but his blinkered faith-based views make him an entirely inappropriate candidate to run the science-based EPA."

After FFRF sent letters to 26 Oklahoma school districts in 2015 about illegal bible distribution in public schools by the Gideons, Pruitt jumped into the fray, sending a letter to superintendents statewide that smeared FFRF. Pruitt wrote: "As the attorney general of Oklahoma, I will not stand idly by while out-of-state organizations bully you or any other official in this state into restricting the religious freedom the Founders of this country held dear."

It's not the first time Pruitt maligned FFRF. In 2014, while discussing the Internal Revenue Service's policy on pulpit politicking, he claimed FFRF "is unabashed in its desire to destroy" free speech and the First Amendment's free exercise clause. He has also refused open records requests from FFRF over his involvement in promoting the distribution of bibles and so-called "religious freedom" in public schools.

Pruitt's hostility toward FFRF is part of a pattern. For instance, he long fought to retain a Ten Commandments monument that the state Supreme Court ordered removed in 2015 from the Oklahoma Capitol.

Rick Perry

Rick Perry, to be named secretary of the Department of Energy, is another fanatically religious nominee who has scuffled with FFRF.

On behalf of hundreds of members in Texas, FFRF and five of our Houston members sued Perry as Texas governor in July 2011 over Perry's initiation, organization, promotion and participation of a prayer event. Perry not only issued a proclamation that Aug. 6, 2011, was a "Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation's Challenges," but actually initiated the very call for the event. He videotaped an invitation posted at the official gubernatorial website asking citizens to turn to Jesus and ask for God's forgiveness.

But the judge dismissed our lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing. Perry did not, however, repeat the Texas prayer event.

Perry intruded into our complaint over cheerleaders at public high school games in the Texan city of Kountze. These cheerleaders had painted paper banners with New Testament bible verses for football players to run through at the start of games. Perry grandstanded in vocally siding with the cheerleaders.

And he even issued a gubernatorial prayer proclamation for rain! It was to no avail; the state endured unprecedented wildfires after his decree.

It's obvious that a climate change denier who opposes science education and the need for an Energy Department should not have been nominated to run that very department.

If he is confirmed, we can expect Perry to use his cabinet position to wreak havoc on the environment — and to unabashedly promote religion.

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions, a U.S. senator from Alabama who has called church/state separation an "extra-constitutional doctrine," will be the next U.S. attorney general.

"As a result of his alarming views, Sessions played a key role in keeping a 29-foot cross on display on government property in Southern California and sponsored a resolution in the Senate encouraging the display of the Ten Commandments at government facilities, including courthouses," writes American United for the Separation of Church and State.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor who will serve as the United States' representative to the United Nations, has been rightfully criticized for organizing a massive prayer rally.

The ACLU of South Carolina filed an open records request seeking an accounting of whether or not taxpayer funds were used to promote religion during that rally. Haley has also voted for a bill that would require women to have and view an ultrasound, then wait 24 hours before being allowed to have an abortion.

Michael T. Flynn

Michael T. Flynn, tabbed as national security adviser, is a fundamentalist Christian who is openly bigoted toward Muslims, even claiming that Sharia law is spreading in the United States and that fear of Muslims is "rational." The New York Times reports that Flynn has already influenced Trump on several issues.

"During the transition, General Flynn has been present when Mr. Trump has received his daily intelligence briefing," The New York Times reports. "As national security adviser, he would have the last word on how the president should respond to crises such as a showdown with China over the South China Sea or an international health crisis like the Ebola epidemic."

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