By Paul Rosenberg
Last Thursday, Jan. 16, was Religious Freedom Day. As befits his mendacious nature, Donald Trump “honored” it by promoting two policies profoundly at odds with the original meaning of what religious freedom is all about: a license to discriminate with federal funds, both in employment and in provision of services, and new pressure on public schools to allow student prayer and religious use of school facilities.
The actual substance of the second policy was vastly over-hyped, noted Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Religion had never been banned from education by the Supreme Court in the 1960s, she pointed out — only “mandatory Bible readings and prayers written by the government. It should not be controversial to oppose government-dictated religious practice.” But that’s clearly the direction Trump was signaling toward, and the public pressure of presidential posturing has real-life consequences, regardless of written laws and regulations.
Trump’s actions drew swift condemnation from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Inquiry, among others. As CFI noted:
[I]f a homeless atheist or LGBTQ teenager went to a federally-funded Catholic soup kitchen seeking nutritional aid, the organization could turn them away without so much as notifying them that alternative sources of aid exist.
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