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The Republican Party has utilized the “religious freedom” argument a lot in recent years, but when it comes to genuine religious freedom, and the separation of church and state that guarantees that freedom, Republicans have no real convictions. For anyone taking a critical look at the Republican argument regarding “religious freedom” it should be abundantly clear they actually mean freedom to follow their particular brand of Christianity.
This Christian first mentality is on full display at CPAC, the conservative political action committee convention where Republican Party stalwarts turn out in droves for a week of ideological navel gazing. This year in particular though shows a doubling down on certain trends Republican leaders had at least tried to minimize in years past and in some cases those new trends have melded with some old mainstays. Specifically more Trumpian themes have successfully melded with the conventional pandering to the Christian right.
The fact that an event headlined by Ted Cruz, who used it as an opportunity to mock Donald Trump, now has big names such as Hulk Hogan is telling. The event names themselves are just as revealing, perhaps most notably the “If Heaven has a gate, a wall, and extreme vetting why can’t America?” more than any shows the connection between the less conventional Trump wing of the Republican Party and the Christian right, many of whom probably attended just a year ago to mock Trump with Ted Cruz.
Christian conservatives latched on to Donald Trump early and lovingly, despite the inherent hypocrisy supporting Donald Trump and preaching the word of Jesus Christ represents. And now it appears that Donald Trump is rewarding them, by fully coopting them into his movement.
The melding of Donald Trump’s nationalism with the social conservative wing of the Republican Party should concern all proponents of a secular society. The impact can already be seen with appointments like Betsy Devos, who has long advocated school choice, a not so subtle way to shift massive amounts of funding from public schools to religious schools.
Figures like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions also bring particularly problematic conceptions of Christianity to the Trump administration that shape the decision making process in all kinds of subtle ways. The bungled roll out of Donald Trump’s controversial muslim ban was pushed by Bannon who is known for his “Christian west” vs. Islam mentality. Sessions has long been a social conservative force and will undoubtedly push policies behind the scenes and utilize the Department of Justice in ways becoming of his world view.
Mike Pence is perhaps the most obvious Christian figurehead in the Trump administration, well known for his discriminatory anti-LGBTQ policies as governor of Indiana. It’s hard to tell how exactly each of these forces will play into Trump’s policy, but it is clear they have proved useful in melding the Trumpian brand of Republican politics with the more traditional Christianity soaked themes seen in the past.
And CPAC’s “If Heaven has a gate, a wall, and extreme vetting, why can’t America?” is the newest most blatant and obvious example of that connection.