Build the wall? NO. It’s NOT Trump’s Wall. It’s the wall that is supposed to separate government and religion in the United States. As noted in my first blog, the First Amendment which was adopted in 1791 says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people to peacefully assemble and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” This means that currently, unlike as many as 80 other countries that support a state or national religion, the U.S. government cannot sanction or favor one religion over another. As President Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802, the First Amendment, in effect, built “a wall of separation between Church & State.”
However, the wall has been crumbling bit by bit over the centuries since Jefferson’s statement. The boundary between religion and government does seem sieve-like. “In God We Trust” appears on U.S. coins and is a national motto. Religion plays a role when elected officials are sworn into office: they take an oath with a hand on a Bible. In addition both houses of Congress and state legislatures begin their sessions with prayers offered by chaplains who are paid from tax funds.
Lawyers, judges, clergy, private citizens, and others have used the wall-of-separation phrase to accentuate the meaning of the First Amendment. But that figure of speech has also created many conflicts. Some proclaim that the wall must be kept high and indestructible. Others say there are cracks in the wall or that it’s more like a picket fence.
In this current decade, the wall of separation looks wobbly to me, and the current federal government as well as some state and local governments are attempting to topple the wall. Before and after his election in 2016, Trump pledged multiple times to undo the laws that separate government and religion in the United States. His Christian evangelical supporters are eagerly and happily helping to kick, stomp, push the wall over.
For example, it’s galling to learn that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, publicly preaches about her Christian religion while encouraging state funding (taxpayer money) for charter schools and vouchers that parents can use to send their children to private schools, usually religious schools. Meanwhile, DeVos does little or nothing to support public schools, which is her duty as the top executive for public education. She is backed by Trump.
DeVos and Trump have seemingly ignored public schools, and they appear to have paid little attention to the spread of Evangelical Christian Good News Clubs, disguised as non-religious student clubs, across the nation. These clubs have been established in about 6,000 public elementary schools and an uncounted number of charter schools in the United States. The purpose of any Good News Club “is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ” and create Christian devotees. Aren’t such clubs illegal in public schools? Yes and no. These clubs are not legally allowed in public school buildings during school hours (which applies to other religious clubs) but they can meet in public schools after classes are over. Most religious clubs in schools meet for fellowship. But Good News meets for one reason: to indoctrinate.
Religious beliefs entangle themselves in other governmental issues. Take the state of Kansas where the governor recently signed a law that allows adoption agencies to refuse placement of children “for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement of such child would violate such agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” In other words, if faith-based adoption agencies are, for example, against LGBT couples fostering or adopting children, and refuse placement with such couples, that amounts to illegal discrimination.
LGBT people are no strangers to discrimination even though they have made significant legal and political gains in the United States. Yet, federal and state laws do not clearly protect LGBT people when they are fired from jobs, evicted from their rental homes, or refused service because of their sexual orientation. Such discriminatory actions are often provoked by religious individuals opposed to homosexuality and transgender people, which in turn leads to court cases. Some have reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which has often decided in favor of LGBT rights
Religious organizations have also intruded and sometimes helped block government funding for embryonic stem (ES) cell research as well as other scientific investigations. Many religious conservatives believe that personhood begins at conception, that is, an embryo only a few days old is an actual person. Thus, in their view, ES cell research is abhorrent. They believe it is akin to murder.
However, the eggs used for research are not fertilized in a woman’s body. They are developed in an in vitro fertilization clinic. Couples who have been unable to conceive go to a clinic where a woman’s eggs are surgically extracted and mixed with male (usually a husband’s) semen and then implanted in the uterus. If eggs are remaining after this procedure, a couple may donate them for research purposes or give the clinic permission to discard them.
Researchers maintain that stem cells can provide treatments and cures for some cancers, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s diseases, and more. Scientists also learn about human growth and cell development from studying stem cells.
Since the 1990s, government funding for embryonic stem cell research has been supported and opposed. But in 2009 the Obama administration allowed federal funding for ES. To date, there is no certainty what the Trump administration will do regarding this research. Trump’s religious followers could demand that funding be banned. Trump may do so just because he has made it clear that he wants to undo everything related to Obama’s administration.