Trump and the Republicans Are Redefining “Religious Freedom” to Favor Christians

They want to turn religious belief into a license to discriminate, and to tear down the wall separating church and state.

Image: http://dvau.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/a-christian-nation1.jpg

BY GRAHAM VYSE
February 16, 2017

As foreshadowed by his campaign, Donald Trump has spent his presidency fear-mongering over imaginary or exaggerated problems, toward sinister ends. Trump claims of widespread voter fraud are a pretext for cracking down on voters who favor Democrats. He invents crime statistics to lay the groundwork for authoritarian law-and-order policies. And he routinely calls the mainstream media “FAKE NEWS” to delegitimize accurate reporting that makes him look bad.

Republicans in Congress haven’t joined Trump on these particular crusades, but on Thursday, they will take up an issue where they and the president are equally unmoored from reality: Religious freedom.

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on “The State of Religious Liberty in America,” featuring three GOP witnesses: Kim Colby, director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, which in 2010 argued unsuccessfully at the Supreme Court that one of its public law school chapters should receive university recognition and funding while excluding gay students; Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which The American Prospect dubbed “the leading advocate for corporations’ religious rights” after its central work on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case; and Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose leading legal role in a host of socially conservative causes over the decades led Think Progress to call it “The 800-Pound Gorilla Of The Christian Right.”

Given this lineup, it’s safe to assume the hearing will resemble previous ones on the subject, where Republicans have argued that religious freedom is under unprecedented attack in the United States. What they’ll really be arguing for, though, is the right to use religious beliefs as a license to discriminate, and to provide special protections for Christians that fly in the face of the First Amendment.

Trump, a declared Presbyterian, may not be a man of deep faith. But after winning the GOP nomination, he won over the religious right and now, he’s delivering on his promises with the help of Republicans on Capitol Hill. In doing so, these supposed defenders of religious freedom are instead waging a war on it, further blurring the separation of church and state in America.

When the House Judiciary Committee held a religious liberty hearing in 2014, Representative Trent Franks from Arizona accused the Obama administration of “flippant willingness to fundamentally abrogate America’s priceless religious freedom in the name of leftist social engineering,” citing Obamacare’s birth control mandate. Franks added that “every individual has the right to religious freedom and First Amendment expression so long as they do not deny the constitutional rights of another.”

But as that hearing wore on, it became clear that Republicans and their conservative witnesses did, in fact, want to impinge on the rights of others. They argued that, for religious reasons, companies should be allowed to deny their employees contraception coverage and wedding photographers should be allowed to turn away same-sex couples. Matthew Staver, founder of the conservative Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, even defended the legality of counseling “to reduce or eliminate same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, or identity”—otherwise known as conversion therapy.

Barry Lynn—a Democratic witness and the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State—argued in his testimony, “Ironically, the single greatest threat to religious freedom comes from a radical redefinition of the idea itself…I think the Framers of the Constitution would be appalled at the radical revisionism of the First Amendment being advocated by some. More importantly, I think the America of the future will look askance at efforts to elevate majority faiths or subject not so traditional believers to the status of an orphan class to be denied genuinely equal treatment in this diverse country.”

If Lynn was concerned about Republicans’ redefinition of religious liberty three years ago, he’s more worried today, now that the GOP controls Congress and the presidency.

Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, is an anti-choice arch-conservative who sidedwith Hobby Lobby in the (ultimately successful) lawsuit against the aforementioned birth control mandate. Trump has tappedLiberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to head an education task force. He wants to enact a $20 billion school voucher program that would use taxpayer dollars to fund religious education. He’s pledged to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law banning churches from political campaigning. And his ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries was halted by a federal judge for discriminating based on religion.

“When you take vouchers, politicking from the pulpit, the trumping of laws by claims of religion, and the immigration order, that is just a smorgasbord of terrible ideas,” Lynn said in an interview this week.

There’s more. As Michelle Goldberg wrote in The New York Times last month, Trump is “assembling a near-theocratic administration, his cabinet full of avowed enemies of church-state separation.” Vice President Mike Pence believes school should be allowed to teach creationism, that condoms provide “very poor protection,” and has argued that federal AIDS funding should go to organizations that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said church-state separation is “unhistorical and unconstitutional.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports taxpayer-funded vouchers for public school students to attend religious schools. And so on.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are readying to reintroduce Trump-endorsed legislation that “would limit the federal government’s ability to punish individuals and organizations who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds,” according to PBS NewsHour. Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, told PBS that the bill, as first introduced in 2015, “is very radical, and would startle and scare middle-of-the-road Republicans”:

Olson argued that the law, as it was originally written, would protect people like Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who grabbed headlines in 2015 when she denied a marriage license to a same-sex couple. The bill also extended protection to pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for unmarried women if they cite that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

“Everything we hold as being real constitutional freedoms and protections is under assault right now,” Larry Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition For America, said in an interview.

In addition to legitimizing discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, Trump is further enhancing the privilege of Christianity in America. He’s pledged to prioritize Christian refugees, drawing condemnation from Christian leaders who rightly see the idea as discriminatory. More fundamentally, he’s advancing the politically expedient lie that Christianity itself is somehow under attack in the United States. “Christianity is under tremendous siege,” he said on the campaign trail last year.

“They don’t have a damn clue what religious freedom means. They have bastardized the expression and the definition of it.”

Though Christians face legitimate religious persecution and slaughter for their beliefs around the world, America retains a “dizzying level of religious freedom for Christians,” Lynn told me. Much of Trump’s most passionate campaign rhetoric on this issue last year revolved around his pledge to bring back “Merry Christmas,” the seasonal greeting supposedly endangered by the rise of “Happy Holidays.” This is classic conservative Christian grievance politics, revealing that the religious right’s anxiety is not that their faith is genuinely threatened, but that it no long occupies a privileged place in an increasingly multicultural society.

“They don’t have a damn clue what religious freedom means,” Decker of the Secular Coalition said. “They have bastardized the expression and the definition of it to suggest the only thing that creates real religious freedom is privileging Christianity in this country.”

Deep down, Trump probably regards the religious right with only slightly more esteem than your average Manhattanite. But conservative Christians, evangelicals especially, are a key part of his political coalition, and he’s clearly willing to do almost anything to keep them in his column. He’ll worship them so long as they worship him, happy to politicize religion if it serves his needs.

Decker said it wasn’t for him to question Trump’s faith, but joked that Trump clearly believes in one deity above all. “I do believe that Donald Trump probably is a believer,” he said. “I think he’s a believer in Donald Trump.”

Donald Trump alude a un ataque terrorista en Suecia que nunca existió

El presidente Donald Trump en Florida. KEVIN LAMARQUEREUTERS

La asesora de Donald Trump inventa una masacre para justificar su veto a los refugiados

“Uno mira lo que está ocurriendo en Alemania, uno mira lo que pasó anoche en Suecia. Suecia, ¿quien lo creería? Suecia”, señaló Trump

Al hablar ante seguidores en Florida el sábado, el presidente estadounidense Donald Trump aludió a un incidente terrorista en el país escandinavo, en una nueva mención de su gobierno a un ataque inexistente.

En un acto público al estilo de campaña, Trump mencionó una lista de lugares que han sido blanco de ataques terroristas.

“Tenemos que mantener nuestro país a salvo. Uno mira lo que está ocurriendo en Alemania, uno mira lo que pasó anoche en Suecia. Suecia, ¿quien lo creería? Suecia. Recibieron a muchos. Están teniendo muchos problemas que jamás imaginaron”, señaló en un discurso, en el que defendió su decreto para impedir el ingreso de refugiados y ciudadanos de siete países musulmanes, que fue suspendido por la justicia.

También mencionó a Bruselas, Niza y París, ciudades que han sido víctima de atentados terroristas.

Un portavoz de Trump no respondió de inmediato a una solicitud de la AFP este domingo para obtener una clarificación sobre los comentarios del presidente norteamericano.

En Twitter, la plataforma de comunicación preferida de Trump, los usuarios lanzaban bromas con los hashtags #lastnightinSweden (anocheenSuecia) y #SwedenIncident (IncidenteSuecia).

El ex primer ministro sueco Carl Bildt inquirió: “¿Suecia? ¿Ataque terrorista? ¿Qué ha estado fumando? Abundan las interrogantes”.

Gunnar Hokmark, un miembro sueco del Parlamento Europeo, retuiteó un comentario con el hashtag “#anocheenSuecia y el comentario “mi hijo arrojó su hot dog al fuego. ¡Qué triste!”

Hokmark agregó su propio comentario: “¿Cómo pudo saberlo?

En el mes que lleva en la Casa Blanca, el gobierno de Trump ha sido objeto de críticas y ridiculizaciones por mencionar ataques que jamás tuvieron lugar.

Su asesora Kellyanne Conway -quien hizo famosa la frase “hechos alternativos”- se inventó la “masacre de Bowling Green” durante una entrevista.

Luego dijo en un tuit que lo que quiso decir era “terroristas de Bowling Green”, en alusión a dos iraquíes que fueron acusados en 2011 de intentar enviar armas y dinero a Al Qaeda, y utilizar dispositivos explosivos improvisados contra soldados estadounidenses en Irak.

Y el portavoz de la Casa Blanca, Sean Spicer, hizo tres referencias en una semana a un atentado en Atlanta.. Luego precisó que se había querido referir a Orlando, la ciudad de Florida donde una estadounidense de origen afgano ultimó a 49 personas en una discoteca el año pasado.

En: elpais

Robert Harward Turns Down Offer to Become President Trump’s National Security Adviser

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward has turned down an offer to become President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, a White House official said on Thursday.

Image: Vice Adm. Robert Harward in 2011. Sgt. Shawn Coolman / U.S. Marine Corps/AP

“It’s purely a personal issue,” Harward told The Associated Press on Thursday evening. “I’m in a unique position finally after being in the military for 40 years to enjoy some personal time.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “He is a great man who has served his country with distinction. Any discussion was subject to him overcoming family and financial concerns [which] he could not do.”

Trump is searching for a replacement for retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday over phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, communications that reportedly involved discussions of sanctions leveled against the country during the Obama administration.

Harward, a former Navy SEAL, spent almost 40 years in the Navy and was on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, with experience in several Middle Eastern countries, as well as Somalia and Bosnia.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward has turned down an offer to become President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, a White House official said on Thursday.

“It’s purely a personal issue,” Harward told The Associated Press on Thursday evening. “I’m in a unique position finally after being in the military for 40 years to enjoy some personal time.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “He is a great man who has served his country with distinction. Any discussion was subject to him overcoming family and financial concerns [which] he could not do.”

Trump is searching for a replacement for retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday over phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, communications that reportedly involved discussions of sanctions leveled against the country during the Obama administration.

Harward, a former Navy SEAL, spent almost 40 years in the Navy and was on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, with experience in several Middle Eastern countries, as well as Somalia and Bosnia.

Harward left a military career for a job as chief executive for defense giant Lockheed Martin in the United Arab Emirates, where he is responsible for strategy, operations and growth, according to the company.

Harward had been considered a front-runner for the job. Trump has appointed retired Army Gen. Keith Kellogg as acting adviser.

Related: Who Are the Possible Replacements for Flynn?

In announcing his resignation Monday, Flynn said he “inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”

Trump said Thursday that he didn’t believe Flynn did anything wrong, but he said he did not direct Flynn to call the ambassador and discuss sanctions.

“I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple,” Trump said.

“Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts, so it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it,” Trump said. “I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him, because that’s his job.”

In: nbc

Orden ejecutiva castigaría a inmigrantes legales por uso de beneficios

Analistas señalan que si se promulga la orden que está en borrador, podría afectar a millones de residentes legales que hayan recibido cualquier beneficio federal, limitar el acceso al créditos impositivos como EITC e impedir la inmigración de familiares.

Image: http://static6.businessinsider.com/image/55fa091a9dd7cc11008baf0d-2000/trump.jpg

Si el Presidente Donald Trump firma una orden ejecutiva cuyo borrador ha circulado durante las últimas tres semanas, millones de inmigrantes legales e incontables solicitantes de visas estadounidenses podrían perder beneficios e incluso ser castigados por haber recibido o poder llegar a recibir algún tipo de beneficio público federal.

Se trataría de una aplicación mucho más amplia de la que se lleva a cabo ahora y que está en los reglamentos desde 1999, en base a una ley que se aprobó a mediados de los años 90, y que prohíbe a un residente legal volverse una “carga pública”.

Pero expertos legales señalan que no está muy claro que el gobierno federal pueda aplicar el castigo máximo de deportación a personas que sean residentes legales y declarados “carga pública” a menos que sea casos muy extremos.

Es posible que si el gobierno de Donald Trump intenta hacerlo, diversos grupos consideren demandas legales al respecto, dijo Jenny Rejeske, que se encarga de temas sanitarios para el National Immigration Law Center. “El estatuto limita mucho ese castigo”, dijo la abogada.

Desde que esa ley se aprobó en los años 90, los reglamentos y tribunales han interpretado “carga pública” a aquellos inmigrantes que dependan casi totalmente de beneficios públicos durante los primeros cinco años de su residencia, o si la causa de la dependencia existía desde antes de recibir la visa.

Esa ha sido la aplicación de la ley hasta ahora, explicó Samuel Hammond, del Niskanen Center, el think tank libertario. La orden que emitiría Trump “ordenaría al DHS a rescindir los reglamentos actuales y escribir unos nuevos que aparentemente resultarían en más restricciones y la expansión del concepto de quien es una “carga pública”.

“Por ejemplo, si ellos decidieran que cualquier acceso a Medicaid te convierte en “carga pública”, lo que no es el caso hoy en día, hasta 1.4 millones de residentes permanentes serían vulnerables. Si se trata del programa SNAP (cupones de alimentos), estaríamos hablando de 890,000 residentes”, dijo Niskanen. “Nos preocupa mucho el efecto de esto”.

Pero la orden ejecutiva que circula indica que el uso de “cualquier programa federal”, incluso más allá de los cinco principales que son Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, SSI y CHIP, y muchos otros como por ejemplo Pell Grants, podrían ser utilizados contra residentes legales si accedieron a estos en los primeros cinco años de tener su green card.

“De hacerse oficial esta orden, sería un ataque más contra los inmigrantes, esta vez contra inmigrantes y residentes legales o familias que buscan reunirse”dijo Melissa Boteach, de CAP. “Creemos que estoy no solo sería una afrenta a los valores estadounidenses sino una amenaza para la salud pública y la movilidad social de vastos segmentos de nuestro país”.

A pesar de que los estudios siguen dando evidencias de que las familias inmigrantes reciben menos beneficios públicos por razones de bajos ingresos (mean tested) que las familias de ciudadanos, la orden supuestamente está destinada a combatir el “abuso” de estos beneficios por parte de inmigrantes.

Expertos que analizaron la orden indicaron que podría resultar en “cambios radicales respecto a los reglamentos actuales, ampliando la posibilidad de castigar con deportación a personas que han tenido acceso a cualquier beneficio federal y de impedir la entrada al país o la emisión de visa a personas que “podrían” convertirse en carga pública.

No obstante, las razones legales para deportar a un residente legal son “muy limitadas” en la ley original y “habría que ver cómo intentan implementarlo”, dijo Jenny Rejeske, que se encarga de temas sanitarios para el National Immigration Law Center.

Otro beneficio que podría verse afectado por la orden ejecutiva, que aún no ha sido emitida, es el llamado “Earned Income Child Credit”, un crédito impositivo para trabajadores de medianos a bajos recursos.

“El borrador explica que si una persona pide el crédito para un hijo ciudadano, el adulto debe demostrar que tiene seguro social válido”, explicó Tom Jawetz, del Centro para el Progreso Americano. “Esto será devastador y llevará a que muchos niños ciudadanos no puedan acceder a este beneficio, que ha ayudado a tantas familias a salir de la pobreza”.

En el análisis del impacto de esta posible orden colaboraron CAP, que es un grupo liberal (progresista) y el Niskanen Center, que es un grupo usualmente conservador y de ideología libertaria. Ambos coincidieron en conclusiones similares: esta orden tendría un efecto devastador en la comunidad de inmigrantes LEGALES.

Este es, por el momento, “solo un borrador” , pero los activistas afirman que han escuchado que podría salir “en los próximos días”. No fue posible corroborar esto con fuentes de la Casa Blanca.

En: laopinion.com

A leaked Trump order suggests he’s planning to deport more legal immigrants for using social services

Build a wall around public benefits, and make immigrants’ relatives pay for it.

Updated by Dara Linddara@vox.com Jan 31, 2017, 3:40pm EST

Imagen: http://i2.cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170111180313-trump-presser-exlarge-169.jpg

President Donald Trump upended American immigration policy with three executive orders in his first week as president. He may not be done yet.

The Washington Post obtained two draft executive orders the Trump administration is reportedly considering, both of which (in title and content) resemble documents Vox wrote about and published last week.

One order deals with work visas; the other addresses social services for legal immigrants who are already in the United States. It’s an indication that the many immigration restrictions Trump has signed are not the full scope of what key advisers have discussed. The draft dealing with legal immigrants’ use of social services could have further-reaching implications for legal immigrants currently in the US than anything the president has already signed.

Legal immigrants currently get access to some public benefits in some circumstances. But the federal government — already, under existing law — can bar someone from coming to the US, or from becoming a permanent resident, if there’s any evidence he or she will become a “public charge.”

Currently, the federal government looks at use of cash benefits (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) when it’s making “public charge” decisions, but not in-kind benefits like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

This executive action, though — according to the draft obtained by Vox, which seems consistent with the Post’s reporting — would ask the Department of Homeland Security to issue a rule saying that an immigrant can’t be admitted to the US if he’s likely to get any benefit “determined in any way on the basis of income, resources, or financial need.”

People who use any of those benefits and are in the US on visas would be subject to deportation. And the order would even require the person who sponsored an immigrant into the US to reimburse the federal government for any benefits the immigrant used (something that the government can theoretically ask for in individual cases now, but rarely does).

This is draconian. It seeks to punish not only legal immigrants in the US and their families, but also their US-citizen relatives. It’s a reflection of a worldview in which any benefit an immigrant gets from the government is, in some way, a theft of American tax money — and punishes immigrants as thieves accordingly.

The draft order (or at least the draft obtained by Vox last week) would also seek to show this to the public, by using government reports to make the case against immigrants’ use of public services.

It would direct the government to publish regular reports on the benefits used by immigrants in the US — and how that money could be “reinvested” in the inner cities, something Trump proposed as a candidate.

One of the reports requested in the order would be a report on the cost of the entire Refugee Assistance Program — the program by which the US helps refugees get settled, obtain jobs, and learn English. Refugees are responsible for much of immigrant welfare use in the US because they’re not selected for their high earning potential — they’re selected because of their humanitarian need. But consistent with the forthcoming order restricting refugee admissions entirely, this memo sees refugees as a drain on the public coffers.

Unauthorized immigrants aren’t spared by the order: It would prevent families from getting the child tax credit if the parents are unauthorized (even if the children are US citizens), and it would prevent an unauthorized immigrant from being eligible for Social Security during the time he was unauthorized (even if he was paying into the system, as many do, using a fake Social Security number). But for the most part, this order doesn’t crack down on unauthorized immigrants to protect legal immigrants; it cracks down on immigrants, and their US citizen children, for the sake of native-born citizens.

Trump’s immigration brain trust, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, have long been animated by the belief that immigrants are a drain on America — and their use of social services is one way to demonstrate that. Whether or not this particular executive order is signed, “walling off the welfare state” from immigrants in the US may well remain in the White House’s sights.

In: vox

Aldo read: governing