Donald Trump’s administration has repeated a pattern of disregard for true religious liberty in the name of Christian nationalistic religious freedom, carrying out the wishes of the religious right as they endeavor to provide special rights for American Christians. This has proved itself true once again, as the acting solicitor general recently stepped into the American Humanist Association’s ongoing Supreme Court case against the publicly funded Bladensburg cross.
Up until this latest action, attacks on religious liberty for all have included numerous attempts to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a specific focus on Christianity during the most recent National Prayer Breakfast, and Jeff Sessions’ worrying Religious Liberty Task Force.
The Johnson Amendment is supported by a diverse range of interfaith and secular groups. This critical piece of legislation protects the integrity of tax-exempt institutions, including houses of worship, by ensuring that they do not endorse or oppose political candidates. Gutting the Johnson Amendment opens up non-profit institutions to the lure of dark money and political endeavors, rather than projects that truly serve the mission of the organization.
Jeff Sessions’ Religious Liberty Task Force is another example of the troubling nature of the Trump administration’s approach to religious freedom. The Congressional Freethought Caucus sent the former attorney general a letter in September 2018 explaining that “government entanglement with religion can be a great threat to individual rights, often leading to religious oppression and tyranny.” It continued, “The principle of separation between religion and government is grounded in the understanding that freedom of belief is an essential component of religious liberty.” It also laid out twelve questions aimed at learning the goals of the Religious Liberty Task Force.
Now the Trump administration is intervening in the expression of religious diversity and disregarding the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by filing an amicus brief in support of the American Legion and the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission in the AHA’s ongoing Bladensburg cross case. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall filed the brief (also known as a “friend of the court” brief) last week, attempting to convince the court that the towering Bladensburg cross should remain as it stands now. Wall was hired into the administration as a deputy solicitor general from the private sector by Trump appointee Noel Francisco. In the brief, the administration argues that the massive cross at the entrance to the town of Bladensburg, Maryland, “conveys a secular message.”
The Trump administration is in the wrong on this critical Supreme Court case, just as they’ve been in the wrong on so many issues of religious liberty and freedom. A towering Latin cross is explicitly representative of Christianity. The memorial, rededicated in 1985 to “honor all veterans of all wars,” cannot represent those veterans as the preeminent symbol of America’s majority religion. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was put in place to protect those of minority faiths and no faiths from the infringement and establishment of a majority religion. Nearly a quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated. In Maryland, only 69 percent of the state’s population identify as Christian. There are atheists in foxholes, just as there are Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Satanists, and those who follow other faiths. A Christian cross doesn’t represent them. And using over $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to maintain a Christian cross shows that our government doesn’t value the service of non-Christian soldiers.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest chapter in Donald Trump’s playbook of Christian nationalism, appealing to his strongest base: white evangelicals. The American Humanist Association and our allies will continue to stand up against these assaults on religious liberty for all.