Atheist activist Justin Scott appeared at a public meeting with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and had a chance to ask him a question about the rights of atheists under Donald Trump, the administration’s desire to inject conservative Christianity into everything (including public schools), and the proposed repeal of the Johnson Amendment.
Grassley’s response? “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
SCOTT: … I’m an atheist. I don’t know if there’s any other atheists in here, but we are a growing population of voters in this country. I’m having a hard time not feeling like we’re living under an American Taliban. You want to control women’s reproductive rights. You want to put God back in school — your God, not anybody else’s. And then, one of our… team members on the Eastern Iowa Atheists sent you an email about the Johnson Amendment… and you say you want to repeal it. You want to take that away… can you see our struggle? Can you see our concern as voters that don’t prescribe to dogma, or any kind of doctrine, why that would be a concern of ours? Where’s our religious freedom? Are you gonna protect ours?
GRASSLEY: I am going to.
SCOTT: How so?
GRASSLEY: Before I do that, since you told me what your religion is, or lack of religion, can I tell you what mine is?
GRASSLEY: I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I worship him as much…
GRASSLEY: What I want to make sure is that this minister, or any other minister, can’t be jailed just because she makes a political statement… from the pulpit. That’s what I think the Johnson Amendment restricts, and it violates freedom of speech and free of religion… But there is one aspect of it I have not investigated… there was some indication in the press — I don’t know whether it’s the way the Johnson Amendment actually works, so give me this leeway — but if it allows the use of church contributions to promote candidates, I think that goes too far.
SCOTT: And that’s one part of it. But religious freedom is a big issue for me, and a lot of Americans, because if any city, state lawmaker can create laws that discriminate against groups of people…
GRASSLEY: … You don’t have to worry about Congress. All you gotta do is worry about the Supreme Court, and they’re strengthening the freedom of religion and not weakening it.
SCOTT: They’re using it as a sword. They’re not using it as a shield to protect the religious expression from government interference. So what you’re saying is it’s okay if another believer in Christ wants to deny somebody dinner at a restaurant. Or we have teachers here that talked about Betsy DeVos, and her plan to bring God’s Kingdom to our public schools. Is that appropriate?
GRASSLEY: Congress has answered that through the [Religious] Freedom Restoration Act. And that’s been upheld by the courts. And don’t forget: That bill was passed specifically because the Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that somebody in Oregon was being denied the… the state of Oregon was denying their freedom of religion.
It’s a little weird for Grassley to discuss his faith in that moment since it was totally irrelevant. Justin brought his beliefs up because it was pertinent to his question. Grassley did it to get pity applause.
And repealing the Johnson Amendment would make it legal for pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit while holding on to their tax exemptions. They want non-profit status while breaking the rules all other non-profits are held to. That’s why getting rid of it would be an awful idea. It has nothing to do with their ability to advocate on issues they’re passionate about. As we all know, the law permits pastors to say whatever they want on the subjects of LGBT people, abortion rights, sex education, etc. They’re already allowed to blow the dog whistle. They don’t also need the opportunity to tell their congregation who to vote for with a bullhorn.
You’d think the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee would understand that.