The wall that separates church and state in the United States has been threatened a lot over the years by religious fanatics, especially in recent memory. This week has seen some notable blows delivered to the wall. Today we focus on Jeff Sessions and Mick Mulvaney.
On Monday of this week, Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. Justice Department would be forming a "religious liberty task force." Sessions said that the task force would protect the rights of religious people in a country that has become "less hospitable" to them. Ugh.
Sessions was speaking at a Justice Department summit on Monday. He spoke about a "dangerous movement" that was threatening religious Americans' rights to practice their faith (in other words, he was making stuff up). Among his remarks, he said, “Let’s be frank: A dangerous movement, undetected by many but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. It’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.”
This new task force that Sessions is championing has many critics. Most are pretty convinced that the aim here is to protect white evangelical Christians, not religious people generally. Sessions himself is a Methodist, which is a Protestant evangelical denomination that grew out of the Church of England in the 18th century. He also made a point during his speech to praise the Christian Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple, and who won his case in a Supreme Court decision recently.
A separate story this week concerned Mick Mulvaney, he is the director of the Office of Management and Budget. He was in the news this week because of his remarks at the State Department's Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The three-day conference in Washington, DC was held the week before, and it had some very anti-LGBT groups participating.
Mulvaney, in his speech, said he was surprised that, "Our US taxpayer dollars [were] used to discourage Christian values in other democratic countries. It was stunning to me that my government under the previous administration would go to folks in sub-Saharan Africa and say, ‘We know that you have a law against abortion, but if you enforce that law, you’re not going to get any of our money. We know you have a law against gay marriage, but if you enforce that law, we’re not going to give you any money.’ That’s a different type of religious persecution. (…) That is a different type of religious persecution that I never expected to see. I never expected to see that as an American Christian, that we would be doing that to other folks."
Now, I know this may come as a shock after reading how Sessions twisted the facts to fit his narrative, but Mulvaney is also misrepresenting what the "previous administration" was doing. Mulvaney's reference to the Obama administration as penalizing countries that enforce "laws against gay marriage" is not what happened. Obama spoke out against countries that made homosexuality itself a crime, not just gay marriage. In Kenya, for example, you can face up to 14 years in prison for gay sex.
The takeaway here is that Mulvaney wants to give money to countries regardless of their treatment of citizens. Whatever human rights abuses are committed, as long as the country is "Christian", they can get an allowance.
Unfortunately, it really is not that surprising at this point that members of the Trump administration continue to push their theocratic, authoritarian agenda. Republicans love to push the idea that they are "against big government," but this current generation of Republicans seem to desperately want to install a totalitarian theocracy.