The National Prayer Breakfast came and went today without Donald Trump mentioning the draft of an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” executive order that is circulating, but he did vow to allow religious institutions to amplify their political voice.
“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” he told the gathering at the Washington Hilton, according to CNN.
The Johnson Amendment is a provision of federal tax law that limits political speech by churches and related charitable organizations. “Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit,” The New York Times explains. If they do, their groups could lose their tax-exempt status. The amendment, passed by Congress in 1954 and signed into law by President Eisenhower, is named for Lyndon B. Johnson, then a U.S. senator from Texas, who introduced it. Johnson became president in the 1960s. The legislation was “considered uncontroversial at the time,” the Times notes.
Trump also used the prayer breakfast to defend his very controversial executive order suspending acceptance of refugees and restricting entry to the U.S. by travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. “We will not allow a beachhead of intolerance to spread in our nation,” he said, according to The Atlantic, which characterized his speech as a “vision of religious nationalism.”
He spoke of atrocities being committed against people of various faiths by ISIS and other terrorist groups overseas: Christians being beheaded, “peace-loving Muslims brutalized, victimized, murdered and oppressed by ISIS killers,” “acts of wanton abuse of minorities, horrors on a scale that defy description.” (Many of the minorities persecuted and killed by ISIS are gay people, or those believed to be gay.) One way to protect religious freedom, he said, is to stand strong against terrorism.
“Like his Republican predecessors, he has aligned himself with a vision of America that is strong and powerful because of its piety,” The Atlantic reports. “Against the threat of foreigners, terrorists, and corrupting ideologies, the United States will be one, beautiful nation — and in Trump’s view, that’s only possible under God.” Trump is not known to be particularly religious, the publication notes, but he has benefited from courting the religious right.
Trump opponents, meanwhile, held their own prayer vigil outside the Hilton, and GLAAD plans a rally tonight at the Stonewall Inn in New York City against the potential anti-LGBT order, which would allow businesses, nonprofits, and even government employees freedom to discriminate against LGBT people and others who offend their religious sensibilities.
Trump opened his speech at the breakfast with a bit of levity that may have struck some as inappropriate. “I want to just pray for Arnold ... for those ratings,” he said, referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who succeeded him as host of The Apprentice. With Schwarzenegger, “the ratings went right down the tubes,” Trump said, according to CNN. “It has been a disaster.”
Schwarzenegger, the star of many action movies and a former California governor considered by some fellow Republicans to be too liberal, struck back at Trump in a Twitter video. “Hey, Donald,” he said. “I have a great idea. Why don’t we switch jobs? You take over TV, ’cause you’re such an expert in ratings. And I take over your job, so that people can finally sleep comfortably again.”