Governor Mike Pence, in the first minute of his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for Vice President, setting the tone with “Who am I, Oh Lord” proclaimed, “I’m a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican, in that Order.” There is an obvious irony, in that this speech had been postponed for a day by defeat of a coup against the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has over the last decade moved his country closer to an autocratic government based on his own identity, his being Muslim rather than Christian.
Mr. Trump had acknowledged in his long introduction that Pence’s selection was a calculated decision to “unite the party,” partly to capture evangelical Christians who make up a large part it. While the two top national nominees share little in the way of policy goals, they are united on one issue, which happens to be the same as Turkey’s Erdogan, one that incensed hundreds of officers of that country’s military who will soon face execution for daring to oppose a looming theocracy.
Turkey and the United States have long shared one important tenet, that the dominant religion shall not become a force controlling their country. In Turkey it was imposed by the secularization led by the man who was given the honorific to be called Attaturk. In the United States the attempt to prevent the dominant religion ruling the country was in these sixteen words of the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Of course Donald Trump does not indicate even a passing familiarity with something as arcane as the Constitution he aspires to swear to preserve and defend. So, one of his applause lines to that part of his base who are Christian fundamentalist, that he brought up again yesterday, is the Johnson Amendment. Here are his words from a previous speech reported by the Washington Post.
…….the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said he would end the decades-old ban on tax-exempt groups’ — including churches — politicking, called religious liberty “the No. 1 question,” and promised to appoint antiabortion Supreme Court justices. “I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions — is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” Trump said. A ban was put in place by then-U.S. senator Lyndon Johnson on tax-exempt groups making explicit political endorsements. Religious leaders in America today, Trump said, “are petrified.
Here’s what Trump was conveying, and may actually believe since he has never demonstrated a minimal understanding of our country’s basis in law.
The ban was put in place by the Democratic President before he even had this position. Johnson just did it when he was a Senator, so certainly when I’m president I can undo it. Trump specifically did not say in that speech or the Pence introduction yesterday, that what is called the Johnson Amendment is not an amendment to the constitution but a rider on the 1954 budget that gave some teeth to the concept of separation of Church and State. Examples of countries that do not have this are Iran under their supreme leader Ayatollah, and the Islamic State, both which gains their authority from God.
Here’s some detail on this provision of the U.S. tax code from a conservative group that opposes it:
History of the Johnson Amendment
The Johnson Amendment was passed by Congress in 1954 as an amendment to section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. The Johnson Amendment states that entities who are exempt from federal income tax cannot:
Participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office.
I searched the N.Y. Times archives online, and I found nothing about the congressional debate on this amendment or the vote. Believe it or not, the only source I found was from this 2012 article in the Regent University Law Journal, (The School Founded by Pat Robertson) that while arguing the case for the law’s unconstitutionality, provides political and legislative context which seems not otherwise available on the internet. (including Wikipedia which I will enhance with this information) While the Johnson Amendment is now, six decades after its passage, a central element of this historic election, it was inserted into an omnibus bill by Senator Johnson for his own partisan reasons, and there is no record of any floor discussion of how this affects the reality of the principle of “separation of church and state” From the pp 247:
The ban on electioneering is not rooted in constitutional provisions for
separation of church and state. It actually goes back to 1954 when Congress was revising the tax code, anticommunism was in full bloom, and elections were taking place in Texas.
. . .
Johnson was not trying to address any constitutional issue related to separation
of church and state; and he did not offer the amendment because of
anything that churches had done. Churches were not banned from
endorsing candidates because they are religious organizations; they
were banned because they have the same tax exempt status as
Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government, the right-wing organizations that Johnson was really after.
It appears accurate that this legislation, now one that defines and validates the most meaningful national concept of “separation of Church and State” was in fact the work of a powerful Senator who wanted to squelch groups in his home state that opposed him.
Yes, the legislation was born in the partisan sausage factory, but is now what it has come to mean, not how it became law. It is still a federal law that impedes a religious majority, in this case Christians, from promoting those who will advance their ideology while under the special protection that this country affords those under the rubric of “Religions.” Of Course Pat Robertson did run for President with no illusions other than that his platform included the New Testament. And so does the current Republican ticket.
Now we know that the Trump-Pence candidacy, with the possible ascension of the junior member of the team--something not historically that rare, would mean a Presidency of one who is proud to say his first identity is that of a Christian. And since the list he provides only includes the following two of his identities, “Conservative” and finally “Republican.” He never does get to “American.”
Trump-Pence actually provides more clarity than when it was only Trump, free associating on the stump without any idea of the consequences of his words beyond the cheers of his acolytes. Now, we have a ticket, and the words have to be coordinated between them, meaning internal coherence becomes a necessity.
We now know more clearly what would be the fate of this country under this presidency.
Go to AlRodbell.Com for original analyses of social-political issues