Trump and the Republicans Are Redefining “Religious Freedom” to Favor Christians

As foreshadowed by his campaign, Donald Trump has spent his presidency fear-mongering over imaginary or exaggerated problems, toward sinister ends. Trump claims of widespread voter fraud are a pretext for cracking down on voters who favor Democrats. He invents crime statistics to lay the groundwork for authoritarian law-and-order policies. And he routinely calls the mainstream media “FAKE NEWS” to delegitimize accurate reporting that makes him look bad.

Republicans in Congress haven’t joined Trump on these particular crusades, but on Thursday, they will take up an issue where they and the president are equally unmoored from reality: Religious freedom.

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on “The State of Religious Liberty in America,” featuring three GOP witnesses: Kim Colby, director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, which in 2010 argued unsuccessfully at the Supreme Court that one of its public law school chapters should receive university recognition and funding while excluding gay students; Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which The American Prospect dubbed “the leading advocate for corporations’ religious rights” after its central work on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case; and Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose leading legal role in a host of socially conservative causes over the decades led Think Progress to call it “The 800-Pound Gorilla Of The Christian Right.”

Given this lineup, it’s safe to assume the hearing will resemble previous ones on the subject, where Republicans have argued that religious freedom is under unprecedented attack in the United States. What they’ll really be arguing for, though, is the right to use religious beliefs as a license to discriminate, and to provide special protections for Christians that fly in the face of the First Amendment.

Trump, a declared Presbyterian, may not be a man of deep faith. But after winning the GOP nomination, he won over the religious right and now, he’s delivering on his promises with the help of Republicans on Capitol Hill. In doing so, these supposed defenders of religious freedom are instead waging a war on it, further blurring the separation of church and state in America.

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