On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Justice Department “religious liberty task force” tasked with the job of protecting people’s religious freedom and convictions.
Boy, do the folks on that team have their work cut out for them!
Even the announcement of the task force’s creation set off a storm of anti-religious anger and invective. Twitter and Facebook immediately exploded with conspiracy theories about a Trump administration religious crusade, horror stories about legalized attacks on gays and lesbians, and plenty of comparisons to Islamist states in the Middle East.
In so doing, these angry social media types actually proved the need for the task force in the first place. A simple call to protect people of faith from being attacked is seen by them as an egregious assault on secular rights. In other words, unless religious people are cowering and out of public life, they’re unhappy.
America is currently suffering from a lot of communal delusions, but hardly any of those delusions are as common and as unfounded as the belief that the country is on the verge of some kind of religious theocratic takeover by the Evangelical Christian right. You can even see this delusion play out in the tellingly popular but outrageous streaming TV series, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Of course, the reality is that America is becoming less religious. Every Pew Research study over the past decade has documented a sharp erosion in church and synagogue membership, religious affiliation, and the importance average Americans assign to their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
But the election of a president who was so strongly supported by religious Christian and Jewish voters has apparently given radically anti-religious secularists license to promote divisive theories about the destruction of America’s separation of church and state, gay rights, and abortion laws.
There’s limited upside to writing yet another column or even a book attempting to disabuse Trump haters of their delusions or to disprove yet another dishonest depiction of Trump policies to stoke false fears and advance political agendas.
It’s much more important and useful to inform religious and fair-minded secular Americans of the real issue here and the real battleground being joined.
And that issue and battleground is taxes.
Anti-religious secularists have never been satisfied with simply launching campaigns to personally or communally smear religious people. Their focus has always been to essentially bankrupt them by sowing the seeds of jealousy over the tax-exempt status religious institutions have held since this country’s founding.
To hear them spin it, exempting churches and synagogues from property taxes, income taxes, etc. is a root cause of American poverty and the decline of our cities and suburbs. Further, they often claim that religious schools steal needed resources from public schools.
Radical leftist activists seek to use the tax laws to destroy religious groups by trying to prove that they are somehow in violation of those laws or other rules. For example, these groups would like to find a way to yank the tax exempt status from any church or synagogue that refuses to perform gay marriages. That’s based on the logic that religious institutions that fail to adhere to government laws cannot expect to enjoy legal protections and advantages provided by those same governments.
This is hardly a conspiracy theory, considering the same blueprint has been followed and successfully executed in other Western democracies. Because all religious schools in the EU and Canada receive government funding, those same governments have been easily convinced by secular voting groups to impose their will on those religious schools. Jewish day schools in Britain have been forced to admit Muslim students. They have seen funding pulled because they did not teach government-approved lesson plans on homosexuality and transgenderism. Canadian Catholic schools also began to be forced to host gay and lesbian couples at school dances and social events more than a decade ago.
These are just three examples, but they should serve as a dual warning to American Jewish communities, especially in the Five Towns. Before Orthodox day schools continue to push for state property tax subsidies and exemptions for parents sending their children to those schools, we all must ask: What might the government demand in return for that funding? Could it be that Albany will one day demand effective control over yeshiva policies concerning sexual behavior and dress? Remember, nothing is for free.
But what is coming freely from all sides in America now is the growing demonization of devout and practicing Christian and Jewish people. Whether it was the deliberate set up of the Christian bakers who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding or the renewed fight against Jewish circumcision rites in America, it’s clear that Jeff Sessions’ new task force is needed and long overdue.
Without it, the attack on religion – inevitably through tax laws – will come faster and more furiously than ever.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.