The separation of church and state – a core principle of US democracy – is under threat thanks to an executive order Trump is slated to sign this Thursday.
Earlier this year, during a particularly bizarre speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump promised to scuttle the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofits from actively participating in electoral campaigns and endorsing candidates. One could be forgiven for regarding the promise as just another instance of Trump’s hot air. After all, that very speech was littered with non sequitur criticisms of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s TV ratings.
But Trump’s recent vow to “vigorously promote religious liberty” appears as if it will manifest as the destruction of the Johnson Amendment. Using the only means that his unfavorability permits (executive orders), Trump is expected to relax rules forbidding religious nonprofits from actively campaigning on issues relating to LGBTQ and reproductive rights.
This is horrifying. First, religious nonprofits already have fewer reporting requirements than other nonprofits, meaning that they will have greater secrecy regarding how they distribute political contributions. Furthermore, it will enable religious groups to write off donations used for political ends as tax exemptions.
If Trump actually follows through with this plan, it will be the greatest blow to the separation of church and state in recent memory, with religious groups propagating their systems of belief through convert political maneuvering. The fact remains that private religious beliefs have no place informing the rights of the commons.