David French is right. Evangelicals and other social conservatives need to get serious about political engagement or we will lose our right to associate, organize, and keep our jobs while speaking Christian views on sex and marriage in America. French points to the tepid reaction – or, rather, non-reaction – to the California bill that basically redefines religious freedom in education to apply only to seminaries. Christian colleges must conform to California’s new secular religion of equality or be shut down.
There was an even more important story this week, actually, that got no attention. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which decided two years ago that the iconic 1964 Civil Rights Act also barred discrimination against LGBT individuals, won its first case. It wasn’t really a controversy since the defendant, Pallet Companies, wanted to cave: “Rather than litigate with the EEOC, we looked at ways we could enhance our pre-existing commitment to a productive and discrimination-free workplace.” To settle the lawsuit, Pallet Companies will pay $182,200 to the employee who was the plaintiff and donate $20,000 to the workplace-equality program of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
This is the new context that makes the recent meeting between Trump and Evangelical leaders so significant. By and large, Evangelicals emerged saying nice things about Trump. The pro-life movement (which is the only part of social conservatism to build political organizations that get involved in electoral politics directly) got the most: an explicit promise to appoint pro-life judges.
On the truly great and new threat to religious liberty – this plot, unfolding in plain view, to treat Christian view on sex and marriage as the legal equivalent of gender or racial bigotry – what did Trump have to say? I wasn’t there. Don Wildmon was: “I don’t think he understands the religious-freedom issue as it relates to the LGBT movement and Christians,” Wildmon said. Trump
was asked point-blank about that by Kelly Shackelford. We all know the stories about the Christian businesses that have been either put out of business or fined . . . by the LGBT people who want to force them to participate in gay marriages or “[gay] weddings.”
He did say he is for religious freedom, but I don’t think he really understands that issue. Either he doesn’t understand it or he doesn’t agree with us and he doesn’t want to tell us that. I think that’s his weakness.
From reading the transcript, I think it is very clear that Trump does understand the question and that he chooses to dodge and distract rather than answer it.
Kelly Shackelford, the president of First Liberty Institute, raised the question of judges but also asked directly about the use of gay rights to trump religious freedom:
So a baker, like the couple that’s a Christian baker in Oregon, because they couldn’t do a gay-wedding cake, they’ve been prosecuted by the state. They’re bankrupt. They’ve been fined $135,000 and told by the judge that they need to be, quote, rehabilitated. Have you thought that through yet, or do you know yet, where you’re going to stand?
Trump chose to talk about judges:
So, on the judges: The Federalist Society is the gold standard on judges, are you happy with that? I think, right? Also Heritage [Foundation], Jim is fantastic. Jim DeMint and the Heritage [Foundation] is — I think they’re doing a great job. And they’ve done it also. Plus, we’re going to probably put four or five additional [judges on the list], as I’ve said before. And we’re going do that. We’re going to do that very quickly. And frankly, the decision that you’re looking at is ultimately going to be a court decision. And the people that go on the court over the next period of time are going to have a lot to do with that decision. Because right now, that decision does not look — and I know where you stand on it — and that decision is not looking very good for you.
Trump then changed the subject to pro-life and away from the prosecution of gay-marriage dissenters: “And by the way, if you are pro-life, it’s not going to be very good for pro-life right now. And if Hillary gets in, honestly, Mike, if she picks two more judges – not three, four, or five – pro-life is a whole different story.” He continued:
Your question is a whole different story. Because ultimately, the court is going to decide that question. They’re going to decide that answer. And I will say this and I’ve said before: I’m putting pro-life judges on. . . . The justices that I’ve put on, and you can look at their names and we have them posted, but the justices, I have gotten tremendous, rave views from the people that we’ve picked. Eleven, we’ve picked 11 so far. And we’ll pick a few more and they’ll be very similar. I’ve gotten tremendous reviews. The alternative is the opposite. There won’t be any pro-life judges put on there. They will be all pro-choice. They will be all, 100 percent.
At that point, Mike Huckabee rushed in to run interference and change the subject altogether:
Just to add, I think the Second Amendment is gonna be gone. These are issues that should be decided by the American people through the ballot box, not by a handful of rogue justices appointed for life. [Applause] And I think we just want to know you’re going to appoint people who will respect the constitutional separation of powers and not allow people to be appointed who would go and legislate from the judicial branch. And I think you can give us some comfort that you’re going to appoint people who respect the Constitution rather than completely ignore it.
Trump gratefully moves on to discuss that really burning issue for Christians in America, what Jesus thinks about gun control: “Total respect for the Constitution. I’m so glad you mentioned the Second Amendment. Because the Second Amendment, like Christianity, the Second Amendment is under siege.”
The whole subject of religious freedom was dropped. Trump offered instead to oppose the Johnson amendment (1954), which prevents pastors from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit.
The audience seemed profoundly appreciative and grateful for a couple of hours of Trump’s time. I’m not. This is not, however, a column about Trump but rather about the extraordinary weakness of Christian conservatism as a political force in America. This weakness is not inevitable: We have far more voters than many other more-effective political movements (such as the gay-rights campaign); we have potentially hundreds of millions in dollars to contribute to our cause.
The reason we are so easily fooled and so easily satisfied by a few crumbs from the mouth of a candidate like Trump is that we don’t see an alternative. We are weak and defenseless and are reduced to begging a few words from a man whose character is as weak as his commitment to fight for our rights.That’s the real problem. Not Trump but our inability to focus on what new things need to be done now to protect the rights of traditional Christians (and Jews and Muslims) in America.
People ask me how Trump could be worse than Hillary Clinton. Here’s the main way: He would leave in place Obama’s regulatory structure, confirming second-class citizenship for Christians. Meaning that it would now have bipartisan approval and that we would have no mainstream political party from which to fight.
Whatever bad things Hillary does, they still leave us with the ability (if we organize in new and more-effective ways) to fight politically this grotesque violation of the rule of law, and of liberty, and of basic decency.
And if that happened in a Trump administration, when he caved on the legal essentials, don’t say he didn’t tell you he wouldn’t fight. He did tell you. He has told you. He is telling you.
If we Christian conservatives endorse Trump and Trumpism, it is our fault, not his.
— Maggie Gallagher is the author of four books on marriage and a longtime contributor to National Review.