By Andrew L. Seidel
Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation
At his final cabinet meeting this year, Donald Trump took advantage of his position of power to impose his religion on reporters:
“With that, I’m going to ask Ben Carson—[here, Trump cuts himself off to address the media]—You can stay if you want because you need the prayer more than I do I think, you may be the only ones—Maybe a good solid prayer and they’ll [gesturing to reports] be honest, Ben, is that possible? So Ben, we’ll ask you to say grace.”
First, I cannot resist pointing out that by every objective measure, the most dishonest person in that moment was undoubtedly Trump. The New York Times reported less than a week before the meeting that Trump has told more than 100 “lies or falsehoods” in his first 10 months in office, more than other presidents in their entire terms.
Reporters subject themselves to all manner of evil and personal danger, traveling to war zones and quarantined areas and famine stricken countries. But in this country, in our very White House, must members of the media now be subjected to insulting proselytizing by the nation’s commander-in-chief?
Now onto the substantive objection. What a gross misuse of the presidential office and presidential power to impose religion on private citizens seeking to exercise the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.
After Trump insulted the press, Secretary Carson then intoned a Christian prayer:
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Our kind Father in Heaven, we’re so thankful for the opportunities and the freedom that you granted us in this country. We thank you for the president and for cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us. We’re thankful for the unity in Congress that has presented an opportunity for our economy to expand so that we can fight the corrosive debt that has been destroying our future. And we hope that unity will spread even beyond party lines, so that people recognize that we have a nation that is worth saving, and recognize that nations divided against themselves cannot stand. In this time of discord, distrust and dishonesty, we ask that you would give us a spirit of gratitude, compassion, and common sense and give us the wisdom to be able to guide this great nation in the future. We ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This showy piety reminds me of a story about President Eisenhower. Like Trump, Eisenhower found religion as he was running for the presidency. Journalist William Lee Miller observed, “President Eisenhower, like many Americans, is a very fervent believer in a very vague religion.” Miller also related a story about one of Ike’s cabinet meetings. Like Trump, Eisenhower instituted pre-meeting prayers, and in the middle of one meeting, he exclaimed, “Damnit, we forgot the opening prayer.”
The religious display at a Cabinet meeting is both ostentatious and overdone. The great Edward Gibbon honed in on the real purpose of religious ritual in the same year America declared independence, writing that the various religions in ancient Rome were “all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.” The Cabinet could benefit from FFRF’s favorite advice to pious politicians: Get off your knees and get to work.
Trump’s religion is a political expedient. People who believe otherwise are begging to be lied to.
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