President Trump once again made headlines following Saturday’s commencement at Liberty University, a private, evangelical Christian university located in Virginia. Returning to Lynchburg, an area that handedly supported him in the general election, President Trump delivered his first commencement speech as sitting president. The commencement speech, which focused heavily on religious liberty, came just days after he signed an executive order aimed at allowing religious organizations to become more politically active. His executive order, however, was a disappointment to many religious freedom leaders, as it is not expected to greatly change the status quo. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which has staunchly opposed many of the President’s executive orders, said that it was not planning to file a lawsuit with Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, calling it “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”
In his speech, Trump compared his “outsider” status in Washington to that of the graduates in attendance, calling on them to embrace the label in a nation that, while still predominantly comprised of self-identified Christians, has experienced an increase in those identifying with no religious affiliation. President Trump’s most controversial statement, however, was his bold declaration, “In America, we don’t worship government; we worship God.” He quickly was under fire for his statement with the ACLU quipping, “Actually, in America, we don’t have to worship God if we don’t want to,” referencing the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a state-sponsored religion and guarantees the right to free practice of religion. With evangelicals, a substantial voting bloc, overwhelmingly supporting Trump in the general election, President Trump has tried to champion social conservatism and evangelical values in his presidency.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, publicly endorsing him in early 2016. This came as a surprise, since it was believed that most evangelicals would support Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign during the primaries. Students at the university cast just 90 primary votes for Donald Trump, however, though they did generally support him in the election. Still, a substantial amount of the students and staff actively opposed Trump leading up to the general, making headlines with a released statement titled “Liberty United Against Trump” and a Washington Post op-ed in which they called Trump “the antithesis of [their] values”. The statement, which was signed by more than 2,000 Liberty University students and faculty, criticized Donald Trump, as well as Jerry Falwell Jr. for associating the university with what they called “one of the worst presidential candidates in American history.”
Trump’s comments at Liberty aren’t the only cause for concern for advocates of separation of church and state, however. President Trump has filled his cabinet with members of the religious right who blatantly encroach upon and disregard the separation of church and state. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has even claimed that the idea of “a wall of separation” between church and the state “is not constitutional and is not historical.” From Vice President Mike Pence, who supported redirecting federal AIDS funding to groups that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who supports school
vouchers and once called her work a way to “advance God’s kingdom,” the lasting effects of the Trump administration can have harmful effects on the future of church-state separation. Regardless of differing religious or political beliefs, conservatives and liberals alike should support Thomas Jefferson in maintaining a division between the nation’s government and the religious institutions within.
This article was posted by an author in collaboration with WeThePpl Podcast. The opinions expressed may not reflect the sentiment and stances taken by The Conservative Nut.
This article was written by Sydney Uhlman, a correspondent and staff writer for WeThePpl Podcast.