Trump's concerning vision for international religious freedom

Trump's concerning vision for international religious freedom
© Aaron Schwartz

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE was elected on the promise of a "complete and total shutdown" of Muslim immigration to the United States. Since then, his administration has seemingly redefined "religious freedom" as a license to discriminate against Muslims, LGBTQ people and other groups. So, forgive me for my surprise when the president recently gave a speech on religious freedom, urging other nations to address religious persecution. 

If Trump is serious about promoting true religious freedom worldwide, he should start with his own policies.

For instance, Trump chose Tony Perkins to chair his Commission on International Religious Freedom. Perkins has long advocated for anti-LGBTQ+ initiatives and calling for “religious freedom” when it favors Christians first and foremost. Perkins has used his chairmanship to champion similar policies.


Perkins is not the only one in the president’s close circle to share this worldview. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNew York Times defends reporter after Trump swipe: Her 'reporting has stood the test of time' Trump approves disaster declaration for Michigan despite sparring with state's governor Trump digs in on criticism of Democratic governors MORE, who sat by Trump’s side as he delivered his address, describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order." He repeatedly has expressed sympathy for business owners facing legal charges for violating civil rights laws, affirming their claims that religious freedom includes a license to discriminate.    

Trump used this opportunity to announce a new proposed coalition of business leaders, who will focus on “religious freedom in the workplace.” We can reasonably assume they will share Pence and Perkins’ views — with $25 million of promised support. This is especially alarming as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in three workplace discriminations next month.

The Trump version of securing religious rights in the workplace sounds a little different from longstanding non-discrimination laws. The administration consistently pushes the view that commercial enterprises should be permitted to refuse to hire, discipline or fire employees whose lives do not conform to their boss’ religious beliefs. As a result, employers of a certain faith have more rights — and power over their employees’ lives — while the rest of us have less.  

In an ironic twist, Trump chose to champion this cause on the international stage just one day before the historic congressional hearing on his very own Muslim ban. Even in its slightly revised form, the ban violates constitutional principles and undermines America’s standing in the world. So, the president’s invitation to immigrants facing religious persecution abroad strikes a discordant note for the Muslim families his own policies have kept apart, along with the immigrants at our southern border seeking safety and a new beginning. 

All Americans — of any faith and of no faith — should recognize the disconnect between Trump’s speech and his administration’s policies. For the past several decades, the Christian conservative movement has attempted to alter the meaning of “religious freedom” to solely encompass the protection of one particular ideology and belief system — at the expense of everyone else. From recent pushes to limit civil liberties for LGBTQ+ Americans to a constant attack on Muslim Americans and immigrants, these efforts are only escalating.

So, what exactly will Trump’s $25 million notion of “religious freedom” look like at home and abroad?

Rabbi Jack Moline is president of Interfaith Alliance.