Donald Trump, in another spasm of righteous pomp, has joined a long list of panderers to the church crowd who ache to ring the wedding bells for church and state.
Father Charles Coughlin, Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Jerry Fallwell and countless other hucksters and high priests of sanctimony have sought for generations to marry the reluctant groom and hopeful bride – or at least, dare we say it, let them share the same bed.
Now a president has joined the fire and brimstone crowd. Announcing that religious freedom is “under threat,” Trump told the crowd at last week’s national prayer breakfast that he seeks repeal of tax law that prohibits church-endorsed political candidates, lest a church lose its tax-exempt status.
It’s a tired wheeze, this “threat” to religious freedom, like all the other “threats.” They’re especially familiar in Kansas, where all manner of vague beasts loom in the shadows, ready to yank pews and collection plates from the anti-abortionists, the gun lovers, the school choiceers and the Muslim haters, among others. Gov. Sam
Brownback has been a great one for fear-mongering, fond of ginning up religious rallies on the Capitol steps, ranting on about federal mandates, the sanctity of the First
Amendment, the evils of Affordable Care and gun control and anything that may counter scripture for the Bible and Bullets club.
Now Trump galumphs onto the scene at a national prayer breakfast, of all venues, ranting about the evils of an IRS prohibition of partisan church lobbying. (This breakfast once was solemn and reverent tradition, established on suggestion from the late Frank Carlson, a
Concordia member of the U.S. House, that the Congress and the president unite in a moment of prayer following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)
Separation of church and state is fundamental to the Constitution and for good reason. Restrictions apply to the tax status of churches preaching politics, which is frequent these days. We even have state-sponsored religion: Employees at the Secretary of State’s office have been harangued for their reluctance to attend office Bible study there during working hours.
When churches start playing fast and loose with politics, it’s time for the IRS to come knocking and introduce religion to the tax code. When the Capitol becomes a pulpit for church politics, citizens are justified in complaining about another freedom: religion’s freedom to preach politics with elected officials serving as altar boys.
Given our Statehouse-turned-Cathedral, it’s time to put religion on the tax rolls. Want to push a political agenda?
Pay for the privilege. The rest of us do.
– JOHN MARSHALL