This is a guest post written by David G. McAfee, religious studies graduate, author, and founder of The Party of Reason and Progress.
Despite the fact that Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed Presbyterian who promised to be “the greatest representative of the Christians,” his failure to attend church and ignorance regarding his own faith caused many people to believe a Trump presidency might be a good thing for atheists and secularists (or, at least, that he actually was a non-believer). Those people were wrong.
Not only did Trump choose a Vice President who denies evolution and has voted to restrict LGBT rights based on “religious freedom,” but now he’s appointing religious fundamentalist after religious fundamentalist to important positions in his new administration. Trump’s most recent pick is Dr. Ben Carson, a Seventh-Day Adventist who believes pyramids were used to store grain based on biblical “evidence,” but he’s not the only Trump appointee that poses a threat to church/state separation.
My thoughts on the trend in Trump’s recent appointments can be summed up in a Tweet, but let’s delve into how each member of Donald’s Dream Team could affect the fight for the secularization of the United States.
Beyond Carson’s claim that Joseph (of Biblical fame) built the Egyptian pyramids to store grain, what’s really scary is that he has denounced the very idea that there should be a wall separating religion and government. Carson, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has reaffirmed this position on his Facebook page.
Today, too many of our judges appointed by all kinds of Presidents rule that the state must be devoid of religion. Now, in our messed up culture, some attack those with faith because of their beliefs. Please know I will never hide from my faith nor do anything to limit your ability to express your faith as well. I assure you every judge I appoint will know exactly where I stand.
Trump chose DeVos, who has deep ties to the Reformed Christian community, to serve as Secretary of Education. DeVos, a proponent of controversial private school voucher programs that could lead to religious institutions receiving taxpayer dollars, also comes from a family that has funded and supported anti-gay marriage efforts on religious grounds. Her husband Dick DeVos, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan in 2006, has even said he thinks Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution in science classes. Remember, Betsy DeVos is Trump’s pick for the head of the education department.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called DeVos’ nomination “an insult to public education.” Lynn’s group aims to promote our nation’s secular ideals.
Trump announced plans to nominate Sessions, a U.S. Senator from Alabama who has called church/state separation an “extra-constitutional doctrine,” for Attorney General. As Americans United has pointed out, that position “serves as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for upholding our nation’s laws.”
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.
Sessions has further promoted the invocation of “God” during the legislative process and called the secularization of America “very dangerous,” according to the watchdog group.
Haley, the South Carolina governor who will serve as the nation’s Representative to the United Nations, is also on the wrong side of the secularization debate. She has been criticized for organizing a massive prayer rally that some say violated the separation of church and state. In fact, the ACLU of South Carolina actually filed an open records request with the government seeking an accounting of whether or not taxpayer funds were used to promote religion during the rally. Haley has also voted in favor of legislation that would require women to look at an ultrasound, then wait 24 hours, before being allowed to have an abortion.
Flynn, the man Trump hopes will serve as national security adviser, is as fundamentalist in his religious views as they come. He is not only openly bigoted toward Muslims, falsely claiming that Sharia Law is spreading in the United States and that fear of Muslims is “rational,” he is also a noted conspiracy theorist. Many activists in favor of freedom of (and from) religion think Flynn will likely alienate a large number of Muslim Americans who want to be productive members of this country. According to the New York Times, Flynn has already influenced Trump on a number of issues.
During the transition, General Flynn has been present when Mr. Trump has received his daily intelligence briefing. 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.
Trump has offered several other nominees already, but these five represent a clear and present danger to the Establishment Clause. They have every intention of using their new positions to advance their Christian beliefs. The next four years will not be easy for secular activists, but we’re used to fighting these battles. It’s just unfortunate that we’ll have a President who sees church/state separation as a problem instead of a bedrock of our Constitution.
David G. McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Book of Gods, The Belief Book, Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer, and Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is also the founder of The Party of Reason and Progress. McAfee, who writes about science, skepticism, and faith, attended University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.