February 2, 2017

This is the only story you need to know about today's National Prayer Breakfast. Forget all the noise, because the 45 seconds in the video clip above is the only thing any of them heard. The rest was just fluff.

After spewing some Jeffersonian rhetoric about liberty and God, Trump said, "Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs."

"That is why I will get rid of, and totally destroy, the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution."

Some definitions are likely in order here. When he speaks of "representatives of faith," it's clear Trump is only referring to the far-right Christian evangelical contingent responsible for putting him in office. He is certainly not speaking to the Muslim imams, or the Buddhist priests, or any religion which isn't just a right-wing supporter.

As far as "speaking freely and without retribution" goes, the Johnson amendment, for those who are unfamiliar, is the rule which prohibits the use of the tax-exempt church pulpit for political purposes.

Clergy may always use their personal platforms to speak on politics, but they are barred from specific candidate endorsements from the pulpit.

The logic behind the amendment is clear: If a church wishes to be a tax-exempt entity which can receive tax-exempt contributions, then it also must steer clear of participation in partisan politics. Not that it doesn't already. It clearly does, as can be easily seen just by the list of church-backed organizations supporting the Gorsuch nomination. But by and large, it separates the political activity by carved-out nonprofit organizations which are separate from the church entity itself.

Churches should be careful about what they wish for, because gutting this amendment would put their tax-exempt status at risk. The Catholic Church would be ponying up a lot of money if this amendment was gutted, and that would be the beginning.

Conservatives might also want to rethink this, because I can envision a clear Constitutional challenge to the first Imam who speaks up, receives retribution, and sues the government for that.

Trump is certainly allowing his theocratic string-pullers to call the shots as we hurtle toward theocracy. His lack of regard for the courts and the rule of law may indeed push us in that direction, but in the end, the real harm will be to religion, not the country. We may suffer for awhile, but churches will divide, people will abandon religion altogether, and in the end, cooler heads will prevail.

But at least for today, the evangelical right feels as if it's Christmas every day.

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