Re­li­gious free­dom un­der Trump

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - By Charles C. Haynes

In the end, the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion wasn’t de­cided by Rus­sian hack­ing, sex­ual as­sault charges, the FBI or any of the other ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ments that de­fied the norms of po­lit­i­cal be­hav­ior and dis­course. “We the Peo­ple” de­cided it.

Enough of us were so an­gry, alien­ated and frus­trated that we were will­ing to roll the dice on a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date whom, if the exit polls are cor­rect, a vast ma­jor­ity of vot­ers con­sider un­qual­i­fied to lead the most pow­er­ful na­tion in the world. The mes­sage? Blow up the coun­try and see what hap­pens.

The over­rid­ing is­sue wasn’t health care, taxes, jobs, cli­mate change (barely men­tioned) or even the ridicu­lous “wall.” The is­sue was — and is — what kind of coun­try are we, do we want to be?

At the heart of this na­tion­defin­ing moment is the ques­tion of re­li­gious free­dom, the core ar­range­ment in lib­erty that sus­tains us as one coun­try of many faiths and be­liefs. It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that the very sur­vival of our re­li­giously di­verse Re­pub­lic de­pends on our com­mit­ment to the prin­ci­ples of “no es­tab­lish­ment” and “free ex­er­cise,” guar­an­teed by the First Amend­ment.

How a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will de­fine and pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom is, at best, un­cer­tain, and, at worst, a cause for deep con­cern.

Can­di­date Don­ald Trump said very lit­tle about re­li­gious free­dom dur­ing the cam­paign be­yond a vague prom­ise to re­store re­li­gious lib­erty for Chris­tians, which he (and many vot­ers) ap­par­ently be­lieves is un­der siege. One of the few specifics he of­fered was a prom­ise to en­sure (how, we are not sure) that we will all be able to say “Merry Christ­mas” again with­out fear.

But re­li­gious free­dom was clearly im­pli­cated by Trump’s rhetoric about Mus­lims — from the prom­ise to ban Mus­lims to warn­ings about the dan­gers he sees lurk­ing in the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

The votes were no sooner tal­lied than I be­gan hear­ing from friends about hate­ful back­lash against their chil­dren, peo­ple who are not Mus­lims but ap­pear to be to the xeno­phobes in our midst.

On elec­tion night, a young woman I have known for many years was walk­ing home af­ter watch­ing the re­turns with friends. She hap­pens to be a na­tive of In­dia, adopted as an in­fant to live and thrive as an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

Sud­denly, a car­load of young men scream­ing Trump slo­gans pulled up be­side her and shouted, “Get de­ported bitch.” She rushed home feel­ing hurt, afraid and shat­tered.

Our chal­lenge go­ing for­ward will be to push back against this ris­ing tide of Is­lam­o­pho­bia through a counter-nar­ra­tive about the true na­ture of Is­lam and a re-af­fir­ma­tion of our com­mit­ment to guard the rights of all, in­clud­ing those with whom we dis­agree. Peo­ple of faith, es­pe­cially peo­ple of the ma­jor­ity faith, have a spe­cial obli­ga­tion to stand up for Mus­lims and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. An at­tack on the re­li­gious free­dom of others to­day is an at­tack on our re­li­gious free­dom to­mor­row.

For my faith­ful friends who held their noses and voted for Trump on a sin­gle is­sue — or a clus­ter of so­cial is­sues — I urge you to be first in line to guard and help the vul­ner­a­ble in the era of Trump: Re­li­gious and other mi­nori­ties un­der at­tack, peo­ple los­ing health care, dream­ers fac­ing de­por­ta­tion, refugees turned away, LGBT peo­ple seek­ing pro­tec­tion from dis­crim­i­na­tion and women fear­ing for their safety.

If you have money and priv­i­lege, you may sur­vive — even thrive — over the next four years. But many Amer­i­cans do not have the re­sources or power to shield them­selves against hos­tile gov­ern­ment poli­cies and so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion. These peo­ple are our col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Faith in the Amer­i­can ideal of lib­erty and equal­ity for all — a faith widely shared by Amer­i­cans across faiths and ide­olo­gies — is the fire­wall that will ul­ti­mately pro­tect our ex­per­i­ment in re­li­gious di­ver­sity and demo­cratic free­dom.

But keep in mind dur­ing the dif­fi­cult days ahead: There is no point in hav­ing faith un­less you use it. Charles C. Haynes is vice pres­i­dent of the New­seum In­sti­tute and found­ing di­rec­tor of the Re­li­gious Free­dom Cen­ter. Con­tact him via email at chaynes@new­seum.org. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @ hay­neschaynes

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