From mosque surveillance to new religious-exemption laws, a look at some of the issues likely to come up under Trump
Religious voters won Donald Trump the White House. Exit polls show that 81 percent of white evangelicals and 60 percent of white Catholics chose the president-elect over Hillary Clinton. Trump voters were also more likely than Clinton voters to say they attend religious services weekly or monthly. While these Americans likely had many different reasons for supporting Trump, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, said “the number one issue” for evangelical pastors who met with Trump this summer “was religious liberty—more than anything else,” according to a transcript of the meeting. “All the other issues relate to that one. … We’re losing our religious liberty,” he said.
But other Americans—especially those who are not white, conservative, and Christian—have a different set of concerns about religious liberty. Minority groups, including Muslims and Jews, have expressed fears about the rising discrimination, violence, and hate speech directed toward them. Many have argued that Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail has enabled this vitriol, evidenced by the post-election uptick in swastikas painted in public places and self-described Trump voters’ aggression toward minority groups. Others, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, argue that conservative Christians’ efforts to win greater liberty is really a way of undermining their rights.
“There’s no such thing as a magic solution that a new administration can put into place to resolve all religious-freedom issues,” said Kristina Arriaga, the executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that litigates cases related to religious freedom.
Among minority religious groups, and specifically Muslims, many worry that Trump’s administration will increase the already existing limits on their religious practice. “On the campaign trail, we heard now-President-elect Trump call for things like a national registry of Muslims and a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.,” said Farhana Khera, the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal organization focused on protecting Muslims’ civil rights. And “post-election, we’ve seen some troubling implications of the types of ideas and people he is surrounding himself with.”
She cited New York Representative Peter King, who apparently urged Trump in a meeting to implement a federal surveillance program focused on mosques, similar to the NYPD’s recently shuttered initiative. She also mentioned Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who carried a memo into a meeting with Trump proposing a total ban on Syrian refugees, the renewal of a formerly existing tracking system for Muslims coming into the United States, and a slate of questions for “high-risk aliens,” including whether they believe in Sharia law.
This was almost certainly part of Trump’s appeal. “If you look at … those who voted for President-elect Trump, whether it’s evangelicals or Catholics, the number-one issue by far was the Supreme Court,” said Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, a Texas firm that litigates religious-liberty issues. While this is hard to verify, surveys have suggested religious liberty is among the topics clergy discuss most at worship services. Election exit polls also suggest the Supreme Court was the top issue for a majority of Trump supporters.
Judge appointments—made by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate—are one direct way Trump could influence the many controversial, religion-related cases currently wending their way through the court system. A number of pending suits deal with fallout from the Affordable Care Act, for example, including its requirements related birth-control coverage and treatment of LGBT patients. Lower-court judges, including Trump appointees, will continue playing a big role in how these conflicts are resolved.
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