Trump pushes founding myths in State of the Union

2020 State of the Union

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning President Trump’s lies about the state of separation of state and church in our union.

After touting his tainting of the federal judiciary for a lifetime, Trump claimed:

"My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools. (Applause.) In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God."

The U.S. government cannot raise its “sights to the Glory of God” because it is predicated on a godless Constitution. Trump isn’t celebrating religious liberty, he’s weaponizing it. This portion of Trump’s speech is brimming with the faux religious persecution complex that is often employed by Christian Nationalists to codify Christian privilege.

Prayer? The Constitution already protects students’ right to pray. Trump and the Christian Nationalists want teachers, coaches and schools to use the machinery of the state to impose prayer on a captive audience of schoolchildren — which the Constitution forbids.

Crosses? Put them up on your lawns and in your churches. But our government should not erect or maintain crosses on land that belongs to all citizens, to “We the People.” By doing so, our government is proclaiming the supremacy of one particular religion and dividing citizens along religious lines — honoring some while ignoring others. That religious division is precisely what our Constitution was meant to end.

Muzzle preachers? This is Trump’s thinly veiled reference to the Johnson Amendment. Of course preachers have free speech rights. But their churches don’t have a right to be tax exempt. That is a privilege, one that comes with strings attached, including not engaging in partisan politics. Trump continually claims to have ended that — a lie. Our law prohibits partisan politicking by churches and nonprofits, and FFRF has successfully upheld that law against the Trump administration

Celebrate faith? Cherish religion? Lift our voices in prayer? Glory of God? No. In America, citizens are able to do those things. But only because in America we have true religious freedom. Religious liberty cannot exist in a nation with an established religion because, as FFRF’s founder Anne Nicol Gaylor wisely observed: There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent. That is one reason the Founders of this country gave the world the first secular government.

Trump also called on Congress to adopt a federal plan to weaken public schools, which he called “government schools,” by giving tax credits to support “the school of your choice,” i.e., religious schools. Trump wants to gut funding for public schools in favor of private — most often Christian — schools. But as FFRF Litigation Counsel Patrick Elliott explained in a recent op-ed, vouchers don’t work.

After feeding Christian Nationalists their red meat, Trump may have veered off script, or maybe the script was changed at the last minute. What would have been an explicit call to Christian Nationalism was nixed. Politico has a transcript of the speech up that included this line: “In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a Christian nation.” Trump changed it to “frontier nation.”

But that an assertion that America is a Christian nation made it this far into a State of the Union draft is utterly shocking. The United States is not a Christian nation (for details, see FFRF’s free nontract online, with hard copies available for distribution to your Christian Nationalist friends and neighbors). FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel goes further in his new book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American, arguing that it’s actually a good thing that America was not founded on Judeo-Christian principles because those values are thoroughly opposed to the principles on which the United States was built.

Our Constitution does not belong to the Christian Nationalists, the Religious Right or any sect or creed. It belongs to We the People — all the people. And FFRF is fighting to ensure that America will continue to embrace that eternal truth.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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