Pope Francis made headlines today with his harshest criticism of Trump yet. He said that “a person who thinks only about building walls … and not building bridges … is not Christian.” Of course, Trump shot back with characteristic aplomb, declaring that “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS … the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.” The exchange, while comical, speaks to religious divisions on the minds of many voters, especially as the primaries head to the Bible Belt.
As much as separation of church and state seems to be codified in the Constitution, the political reality is a tangle of blurred lines. The First Amendment guarantees us the free exercise of religion and prevents the state from establishing a church. These words have echoed off the walls of the Supreme Court for centuries. If we are neither theocratic nor secular, then what are we?
Trump’s and Pope Francis’ exchange reminds me of Mitt Romney’s landmark defense of his own religion’s influence on his candidacy in 2007, his “Faith in America” speech. In his introduction, he reminded Americans that the defeat of the Soviet Union was a human rights victory that allowed future generations to be free. In Romney’s words, “Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.” We must be free to express our faiths just as we are free to express ourselves politically. Romney continued:
Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
On the principles of religious freedom, I absolutely disagree with Pope Francis’s remarks today. It is a flagrant disrespect of freedom of religion to invalidate another person’s individual interpretation of faith. Furthermore, the fact that both the Pope and Trump engage in intolerance speaks to the depth of ideological divisions, both domestically and globally. These divisions are the result of ages of disrespect on polemical grounds, and they have since evolved in the democratic arena to impede the very freedoms we hold dearest.
However, despite my disagreement with the Pope, it must be said that the Pope’s actual criticisms of Trump are undoubtedly correct. For too long, American conservatives have lived by a double standard of religious freedoms. On one hand, it is said that the Christian faith should be practiced freely everywhere from school prayer to battle against the “War on Christmas.” On the other, among the ranks of the Tea Partiers in particular, there lies a deep mistrust of religions that are not Christianity.
Trump’s call for Pope Francis’ religious tolerance might have held water if Trump hadn’t unequivocally rejected the principle himself in his foreign policy. His popularity only emphasizes the ubiquity of this contradiction among a substantial population of Americans. In accordance with the Constitution’s provision rejecting any religious test for public office, I urge Pope Francis’ fans to measure Trump by a metric beyond his degree of Christianity.
Trump flies high on the winds of public opinion, but he fails by any measure of true principles. He flip-flops between religious advocacy and fear mongering; he conflates personal faith with terrorist groups. Aren’t these very contradictions the secret to the Donald’s success? After all, Jerry Falwell himself declared Trumpunfit to lead a congregation, yet his endorsement carries years of evangelical moral acclaim.
If voters measure their candidate by religious pedigree, they would flock to Cruz. If they seek fear mongering foreign policy, they would vote Rubio. Instead, in a total rejection of Romney’s appeal to religious liberty, Trump supporters insist on restrictions upon religious rights beyond their own.
As a faithful American, I consider religious liberty to be at the forefront of American ideals. Unfortunately, the same does not seem to be true for everyone. Both Pope Francis’ and Trump’s philosophy of ‘an eye for an eye’ flies in the face of Christian teachings. The only way we can reach tolerance between religionists and secularists alike is by opening dialogue, respecting the validity of all faiths, and simply agreeing to coexist.
Unfortunately, given Twitter wars and current polls, the Founders might have to wait another couple of centuries for that to happen. For now, Romney’s speech is worth a watch.