Donald Trump Threatens Religious Liberty

The candidate’s remarks on Muslims ought to alarm Americans of every faith.

Brian Snyder / Reuters

On Thursday, presidential candidate Donald Trump provided the clearest evidence yet of his disregard for religious liberty, telling Yahoo News that if elected he would target Muslims with a previously unthinkable degree of intrusion. “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” he said. “Certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Asked if he would consider “registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion,” a tactic reminiscent of the treatment of Jews in 1930s Europe, he would not rule it out. He put it this way to Yahoo: “We’re going to have to—we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely.”

Over the last several years, Christians in the United States have become increasingly alarmed about threats to religious liberty. Among other things, they don’t want their nonprofits forced to provide contraception to their employees or their believers forced to provide services like photography or baking for same-sex unions. Even the people most invested in those fights should see that positions held by Trump would pose a far greater threat to their religious liberty were he elected.

The forced registration of any faith group is so abhorrent that it can only be described by words we generally avoid to preserve their integrity for moments like this: Trump’s position is nakedly prejudiced, proto-fascist, and un-American. It would be troubling even if he expressed his views off-the-cuff, without having thought them through. It is more worrisome in the context of a previous interview where he declared that “we’re going to have no choice” but to shut down some mosques in the United States, and a town hall in which he failed to challenge––and arguably encouraged––a voter who asked him about getting rid of Muslims in the United States.

This record ought to make Trump anathema to anyone who has concerns about religious liberty in America. Had he aimed his remarks at any Christian denomination, his candidacy would effectively be over because of the backlash. The fact that his positions pose a stark threat to the religious liberty of Muslim Americans ought to be enough to provoke a backlash. Insofar as it leaves some Christians unmoved, they might reflect on how much damage would be done to their religious liberty if a president of the United States successfully set a precedent for a religious registry or empowered the government to shut down places of worship.

Jonah Goldberg makes this point at National Review:

...getting the federal government involved in tracking and labeling citizens’ religious affiliations is abhorrent on the merits and a huge invitation to profound mischief down the road. Creating databases on all members of any religion is a terrible idea as well. I don’t mind “monitoring mosques,” if there is intelligence suggesting that a specific one needs to be monitored. But a blanket policy of monitoring all mosques strikes me as a major assault on religious liberty — and a spectacular waste of resources. Trump is right — or at least may be right — when he says that some mosques may need to be shut down when “some bad things happen”if those bad things were plotted or advanced by those mosques. I’m all for cutting through the PC platitudes about how Islamic extremism isn’t Islamic. But I have little interest in going so far the other way that we actually resemble the straw men the Left has been screaming about all along.

The current leader in the Republican Party’s presidential primary is now unambiguously on record with positions incompatible with religious freedom in America. How many voters will cast ballots for a man like that? The answer will go some way toward telling us if claims about pervasive anti-Muslim prejudice are a straw man or not, and how willing religious groups are to stand up for the rights of other denominations. Once again, Trump has failed one of the most basic tests of leadership.

Whether he will pay a price remains to be seen.