The Religious Right Is the Other Russians
Another Setback by the Trump Administration Coming Our Way
Secular activists and anyone—religious or not— that believes government policy and religious doctrines need be mindful of the metaphorical “wall of separation” between the two, as prescribed in the First Amendment, and work against efforts to chip away at the mortar of the wall to dismantle this doctrine. The simple genius Jefferson revealed here was that religions would be able to flourish in their own private domains of influence and faithful as long as they remained private. Once one, or several religions gained influence in governmental affairs, it could be the beginning of trouble for other religions—as the government would then be biased in favor of one against the others.
One of the pledges of DJT during his campaign was to repeal the Johnson Amendment, introduced in 1954 by former President and, at the time U. S. Senator Lyndon Johnson. The amendment was added to a tax overhaul bill, modernizing the tax code, and was added by Johnson perhaps more as a personal political move than to reinforce the wall of separation. Two 501(c)(3) non-profits, one founded by H. L. Hunt, oilman; the other by Frank Gannett of newspaper publishing fame, both organizations beacons of anti-communist wisdom, were supporting Johnson’s opponent in the the Senatorial election that year, because Johnson had been viewed as weak on communism (as was just about everyone else left of rabid right). Johnson’s amendment was meant to silence the opposition to him by these two influential non-profits, by stipulating that tax-exempt status precludes organizations from publicly endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Sometimes “accidents” are windfalls, and this one is no exception. This month’s (January, 2017) issue of Church & State has an opinion piece titled “Snake Oil Solution: Why Repealing the Ban on Pulpit Politicking is a Colossally Bad Idea” written by Randall Balmer. Balmer is an Episcopal priest, and Professor in Religion and director of the Society of Fellows at Dartmouth College. His evaluation of his evangelical counterparts and insights into the religious right movement have been revelatory, like this one on the “True Origins of the Religious Right.” Balmer’s experience in First Amendment, Roger Williams’ colonial Baptists, and modern day evangelicals makes for a thorough and convincing defense for keeping the Johnson Amendment and resisting any attempts to dismantle it. The Religious Right has a powerful friend in the Republican Party, however, and with the Republicans Trump, Pence and the legislature and court now in control, it may be an uphill fight. Stay tuned. Stay strong.