Today, Republicans are expected to bring up their version of national health care up for a vote in the House of Representatives. Critically important as this is, it may not be the most important piece of legislation to be dealt with on Thursday. Mind you, this isn't to say it's not seriously important -- it is, obviously. It's just that even if it passes the House (no certainty, though you'd think Republicans wouldn't bring it up for a vote unless they were sure it would pass -- but, who knows? Maybe they're only close and think the vote might pressure those on the edge), it chances of ultimate passage into law is still uncertain because it stands a very difficult time passing the Senate. That's why the other matter may be more important -- besides which it has a great deal of deep and far-reaching importance of its own.
It's that Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order that would allow religion to have a greater involvement in politics than it does now. At present, of course, because of 1st Amendment protections which allows for religious organizations to be tax exempt, the restrictions against them participating in political activity directly are high. If Trump does sign, then that barrier will drop.
This is a horrible matter. Significantly so. Not just for matters of fairness or for dancing the line too closely of Constitutionality, blurring the protective wall between Church and State. But much more substantively with real-world ramifications. Consider --
Not only are money donations to religious organizations tax exempt, but there are no restrictions on how much money a person can donate to a religious entity. Donate $10,000, a million, whatever you want. Every year, every month. Leave your entire estate to the religion of your choice in your will, if you wish. In some religions there's almost a requirement to tithe a portion of your income to them. And if the Executive Order is signed, then that church, ministry, temple, mosque, whatever the house of worship can use it to push its (or in essence, and as much to the point, the donor's) political agenda.. There will be no restrictions. We're not just talking preaching from the pulpit to the flock. Several houses of worship can pool their resources, an even larger religious group could form a PAC. Make TV ads, buy time on the radio, put up political billboards. Expand your thinking, as well, to include televangelists into the mix. And better still, the donor can take a deduction on it, to boot, since it is all tax free.
And for anyone who still thinks this is a great thing, consider that once you allow religion to cross the street into the secular world, that street is two ways. And government laws and restrictions can come into play on how that political money can be used, blurring the line even further that divides church and state.
Decades ago, Stan Freberg made a classic comedy record called, "Green Chri$tma$," in which one of the lines spoken by the greedy chairman of the board Mr. Scrooge was, "Christmas has two "s's" in it, and both are dollar signs." The premise was about the slippery slope when religion and business are mixed in advertising, but little did Freberg know how prescient he was in a far-worse, even politically-dangerous arena,
("Wake up, Cratchit, it's later than you think," the meek junior executive is brusquely told off when he speaks up about how wrong it all is. His response, the last spoken line, almost-whispered in sorrow is, "I know, Mr. Scrooge. I know.")
By the way, it's actually even worse than all this, hard to believe as that may be. Because in either a separate Executive Order or part of this same one (I can't quite tell),private employers will be allowed to use religion as a reason for denying specific issues of coverage to their employees, including -- and likely, most notably -- reproductive health care. This goes under the disingenuous heading of "Religious Freedom."
Assuming the signing does occur today or whenever, this would be an absolutely terrible Executive Order. One of the worst "dark money" situations we've had for politics, on a level with the Citizens United ruling. If Trump signs the Executive Order. I think it's fair to assume he will.
Which will be the only fair thing about it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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