Trump Tries to Play Both Sides of Religious Freedom Debate

Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Recently, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been attempting to play both sides of the religious freedom debate.

In an op-ed for Utah’s Deseret News, Trump wrote, “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have tried to undermine our religious liberties on the altar of political correctness. They have challenged the rights of businesses and religious institutions to speak openly about their faith. Undermining religious liberty has been a trend in the Democratic Party for decades.”

Trump is absolutely right on this point. During his seven-and-a-half years in office, President Obama has committed the federal government to an all-out assault on the free exercise of religion. And, undoubtedly, Hillary Clinton will continue these disastrous, unconstitutional policies.

However, it is difficult to put much stock in Trump’s words given other recent statements he has made.

The GOP nominee has also said, in several speeches, that he is a great friend to the LGBT community and that he would defend gay rights. In a recent speech, he even proposed an ideological test for new immigrants, measuring acceptance of the LGBT movement as one metric to determine an individual’s fitness for admittance to the U.S.

“Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country,” he said. “I call it extreme vetting. I call it extreme, extreme vetting.”

The radical left has incessantly accused Christian groups of bigotry and hatred for their opposition to the LGBT agenda. Could Trump’s proposed litmus test be used to keep Christians, Jews, and other believers out of the country? Could it violate the very principle Trump claims to champion in his Deseret News op-ed?

Of course, this is certainly not the first time Trump has made apparently contradictory remarks on social issues. During North Carolina’s transgender bathroom debacle, Trump flip-flopped to virtually every imaginable position, eventually settling on making a “states’ rights” argument. Likewise, Trump’s record on abortion is all across the spectrum, at one point taking five positions in three days. He acknowledged pornography as a public health crisis, but brags about his sexual exploits and keeps a framed copy of a Playboy magazine in his office.

Suffice it to say, it is enormously difficult to solidly nail down Trump’s social philosophy.

Earlier this week, Iowa Republican and grassroots hero Steve King spoke about the Trump campaign’s need to win over evangelical votes.

“Mitt Romney left five to eight million evangelical Christians home in 2012 or he’d be running for re-election right now, by some analyses,” King said Monday on Morning Joe. “I think that’s an important message to say to the conservatives: Staying home is going to give you more of what you have today and probably worse of what you have today under Barack Obama.”

By any measure, Trump needs to win evangelicals, and he needs to win big among them. He may say that he has “the best words,” but floundering on some of the most important issues of the day will do him no favors come November among, particularly, religious voters.

Sitting on the fence will not lead to a Republican victory this fall. Either Trump must stand for something, or conservatives are likely to believe he will fall for anything.

Michael Lucchese works for the American Principles Project.