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Danziger: The Devil Can Deface Scripture

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Religious Right Shuts Out Spirit Of Christmas

As Christmas approaches, the conservative media axis is aflame with anger and resentment over President Donald J. Trump’s failure so far to procure funding for his wall across the southern border. It seems an odd preoccupation in a moment of a teetering economy, a chaotic White House, numerous foreign conflagrations and multiple investigations into a corrupt administration, but the border wall is the major talking point for Sean Hannity, Matt Drudge, and their compatriots.

The pre-eminence of the wall in the imaginations of Trump and his allies is curious. It has always been more symbol than bulwark, more representation than fortification. As the nation grows inexorably browner, as white Americans lose their cultural dominance, the wall is an emblem of their resistance to demographic change. Trump’s voters want to shut out “those people,” the ones that the president has denounced as terrorists, rapists, drug dealers and violent gang-bangers.

There are countless elements of irony in this resistance, but one that sticks out in this season is this: Aren’t “those people” the very ones that the president’s constituency of conservative Christians ought to be reaching out to assist at Christmas? Isn’t the New Testament full of entreaties to help the less fortunate, to support those in trouble, to aid the stranger? Isn’t this season supposed to represent the opportunity for renewal of a generous spirit, a compassionate disposition, a merciful outlook?

Even non-Christians know the story at the heart of the Christmas celebration: A young pregnant woman and her husband report to authorities in a place where they are not welcome, and she is forced to give birth in a stable. After warnings, they flee with their newborn because a powerful man wants to harm their son. Ahem. Any parallels here?

Yet there has been precious little outcry from Trump’s sycophants over the death of a young girl in the custody of U.S. border agents. Earlier this month, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal died after reporting to a remote New Mexico border outpost with her father, Nery, who intended to apply for asylum.

To reach the United States, Jakelin and her father had crossed the desert with a group of other Central American migrants. The Washington Post has reported that she died of complications from dehydration, though an autopsy has not been completed. To cross the southern border without papers, migrants undertake a treacherous journey, often on foot, often in searing heat and without adequate food or water. Thousands have died trying to complete the journey. An investigation into her death is underway, and it may well be that she would have died even if she had received swift medical attention once she reached New Mexico.

But she did not receive that swift attention, according to the Post’s Nick Miroff, who reported that she and her father waited hours for a bus to take them to a larger border facility. A few minutes into the 90-minute trip, the girl started to vomit, but Border Patrol agents continued the drive, summoning an ambulance when they arrived. By the time she reached an El Paso, Texas, children’s hospital, Miroff wrote, Jakelin’s temperature had soared to nearly 106 degrees. She was dead within hours.

Even if U.S. immigration authorities are blameless in Jakelin’s death, you’d think there would be more outrage, more anger, more finger-pointing — even from Trump’s base. What about their concern for children, especially during this season? Shouldn’t they demand more appropriate care for families who will inevitably show up at tiny border facilities?

A federal judge recently shot down President Trump’s narrow new rules for asylum seekers, ordering him to follow the old regulations: Migrants may still seek asylum based on credible fears of domestic violence or gang violence. That’s good news for asylum seekers, but it also means that women and children, especially, will continue to seek sanctuary at tiny outposts after long and grueling trips.

The Trump administration, however, has decided that its practiced cruelty is the best way to deter them. It continues policies and procedures that will result in more heartbreak, more family separations and, likely, more deaths. Why aren’t those who celebrate the religious traditions of Christmas more outraged? Isn’t compassion what those religious traditions represent?

Why The Christian Right Is Rejoicing Under Trump’s Presidency

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

In early 2016, few evangelical leaders were on Team Trump, as they had Ted Cruz and other conservative Christians to choose from in a crowded Republican presidential field. After Donald Trump embarrassed his GOP competition and became the party’s nominee, prominent evangelicals began changing their tune. Some, including a number of outspoken anti-LGBT activists, worked with the Trump campaign on a large evangelical advisory board. After Trump won the presidency with 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, most far-right Christian leaders who hadn’t endorsed him came around. Many were gleeful, and some even pronounced that God had stepped in and handed Trump the job.

That excitement has grown since the election as Trump prepared for and took office, nominating several ultra-conservative Christians for key posts and promptly following through on several of his campaign promises tailored to evangelical voters. Trump had already picked far-right evangelical Mike Pence for vice president. Then he nominated Betsy DeVos, who was raised in a Calvinist community in Michigan, for secretary of education and Seventh-Day Adventist Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development secretary, and appointed several other conservative Christians to additional top positions in the administration.

Ronnie Floyd, an Arkansas megachurch pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Washington Post that the Trump administration was full of “followers of Christ,” not just DeVos but Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price, EPA head Scott Pruitt, Energy nominee Rick Perry, Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The administration has been way over the top in giving them visibility and recognition that we can bring values,” said Floyd, who was part of Trump’s evangelical advisory team and gave a prayer at Trump’s prayer service during inauguration weekend.

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University who was the first major evangelical figure to endorse Trump, has said that hundreds of evangelicals are getting lower-level positions in the Trump administration.

On January 31, Trump nominated the ultra-conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. He’s the judge who wrote the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, enabling businesses to refuse to pay for insurance coverage of contraception based on “religious objections.” Gorsuch, who is considered to the right of even the late Antonin Scalia, is seen by conservative Christians as someone they can count on to oppose abortion and expand their ability to legally discriminate against LGBT people via “religious freedom.”

“I thank God that if confirmed, this administration will have delivered on one of its most critical campaign promises—to appoint a judge in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia,” said far-right Christian James Dobson, who served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board.

Also January 31, Trump appointed Falwell to lead a higher education task force bent on “deregulating” education. Two days later, Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast, where in a bizarre speech he pledged to repeal the Johnson Amendment, allowing churches to spend money on politics and potentially operate like super PACs.

Trump reinstated the “global gag rule” (or “Mexico City policy”), which prevents U.S.-funded foreign organizations from discussing abortion with their clients or advocating abortion law liberalization, but he made it harsher than under George W. Bush. This rule now pulls all public health funding from organizations, even to vital AIDS and HIV programs, that address abortion. And the president has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade and to sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood.

In late January, the Trump administration circulated a “religious freedom” executive order that legalizes discrimination, allowing any government agency or any private business to deny services to LGBT people. Trump has since backed away from that order, but another may come in the near future.

On Feb. 22, Trump went ahead with anti-LGBT discrimination. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions leading the charge, the Trump administration rolled back Barack Obama-era protections requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. Education secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly opposed the move—which some doubt based on her religious beliefs and her parents’ funding of anti-LGBT hate groups—but Trump and Sessions strong-armed her into backing it. The next day, DeVos went on to call Obama’s transgender guidance “a huge example…of overreach.”

With all the good news for the Christian right coming so quickly, Falwell said evangelicals are “a happy group of people right now.”

Franklin Graham, who gave a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, spoke at a December “thank-you rally” for Trump in Mobile, Alabama, reiterating that God had showed up for Trump on election night. He was thrilled at Trump’s selection of Gorsuch, writing on Facebook, “Once again he has kept a campaign promise—how refreshing!” He concluded his post with this: “Now we need to pray that God will overrule the liberal socialists and progressives who will do everything in their power to block this nomination.”

Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and chair of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, was “prominently seated” at a ceremony honoring Gorsuch. In a Fox News op-ed, he praised DeVos for her strong support of public vouchers to send children to private religious schools. DeVos has said she wants to “advance God’s kingdom” through education.

Televangelist Pat Robertson, one of the most extreme right-wing evangelicals of note, came to Trump’s defense after his “pussy-grabbing” comments surfaced. Now Robertson says people who oppose Trump are revolting against God, and he muses that Obama and Democrats may have enacted a conspiracy to take down the shamed Michael Flynn, who didn’t last a month as national security advisor because he lied about having prior contact with Russia.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council, is sanguine about Trump upholding religious liberty, which in his case means legal discrimination of LGBT people by “religious” businesses with federal contracts. Perkins also praised Gorsuch’s nomination.

Far-right Christian organizations are also happy with Trump and his executive orders. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center recently classified as an anti-LGBT hate group, said of the gag rule, “The president has done the right and logical thing in reinstating a policy that never should have been rescinded.” ADF was founded by Dobson and several other Christian right leaders in 1994 and since then has opposed equal rights for LGBT people and even pushed to criminalize homosexuality abroad.

Christian leaders aren’t just thrilled with Trump’s actions and promises, they’re gratified by the surprising amount of access they have to the president. Falwell told the Washington Post that he, along with other members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board including televangelists James Robison and Paula White, have never had such easy access to a president. “I’m very shocked by how accessible he is to so many. He answers his cellphone any time of the day or night.”

Trump has also answered his cellphone for Robison. Dobson says he can call Pence on his cell.

Plenty of evangelical leaders oppose Trump, or at least, his refugee ban, but the most extreme members of the evangelical movement are quite pleased.

Few would have predicted Trump’s stellar relationship with far-right Christians. But now that he’s won them over, benefited from their political support, and amassed a White House featuring many evangelical conservatives, LGBT protections, abortion rights, and public school funding are on the line.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

IMAGE: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (L), joined by her husband Dick DeVos (2nd L), at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

DeVos Sees Public Education As A Biblical Battlefield

There’s a reason that Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as the new secretary of education was such a close vote, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie. Even in the Trump administration, with its clear suspicion of expertise and competence, DeVos stands out as spectacularly ill-suited for her new post.

There was such a public outcry against her that two Republican senators, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, voted against her confirmation. In this hyperpartisan age, that’s extraordinary.

But, then, so is DeVos. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. She is a doctrinaire right-winger who means to destroy public education, replacing it with a system of religious schools that serve the middle class and the wealthy. Implacably hostile to the public commons, she would rip apart a core asset of our democracy.

In the early 19th century, the visionary Horace Mann set about modernizing American education, advocating a system of publicly funded schools that served all children and answered to no sectarian or religious interests. He believed that universal education would equip disciplined citizens who would advance democratic interests. DeVos’ beliefs run counter to Mann’s principles.

Her defenders insist that all DeVos wants is to ensure an excellent education for every child and to rescue those who are stuck in failing schools. They point to her advocacy for “school choice” as proof that she would give poor parents an opportunity to send their children to high-performing schools outside their neighborhoods.

Indeed, improving educational opportunity for poor children is an important goal, one of the core civil rights issues of our era. While I disagree with those who claim that public schools are worse than they’ve ever been — actually, many of them are much better — I agree that they haven’t improved enough to equip children for the 21st century. Public schools across the board need more innovation, higher standards, and more accountability for principals and teachers.

But “school choice” is a deceptive term. It encompasses support for charters, public schools that, at their best, break away from the hidebound techniques of traditional public schools to boost the achievement of even students from modest backgrounds. But DeVos’ advocacy for for-profit charter schools in Michigan (most of the nation’s charter schools are nonprofit) hasn’t helped students. It has only enriched charter school operators.

The term “school choice” also encompasses vouchers, which subvert tax dollars to support private schools. In those states where vouchers have gained a toehold, the programs usually work by providing parents with a grant, funded by taxpayer dollars, to send their children to any school they choose.

As it turns out, though, most of them don’t serve the poorest households because the grants aren’t large enough. Vouchers average from $2,000 to $5,000. Parochial school tuition averages around $7,000 a year, while nonreligious private schools tend to be much higher. Where would the poorest kids get the rest of the money?

Even if vouchers were more generous, though, they betray a fundamental principle of our pluralistic democracy: They send public dollars to fund narrow belief systems. My second-grader attends an Episcopal school where she is required to attend chapel every Friday. Why should taxpayers who disagree with the beliefs of the Episcopal church subsidize my child’s education?

And why should my tax dollars support Catholic schools? As much as I respect the current pope, Francis, I still oppose much Catholic doctrine, including the church’s condemnation of homosexuality, its refusal to elevate women to the clergy, and its opposition not only to abortion but also to contraception. Why should my money support those beliefs?

DeVos, a billionaire, isn’t Catholic. She’s a member of an ultraconservative Calvinist sect that believes in “predestination” — God has already decided who is going to heaven before we are born — and worships private enterprise. Speaking to The Gathering, an annual meeting of super-wealthy conservative Christians in 2001, DeVos compared “the system of education in the country” to a biblical battlefield where Israelites fought the Philistines, according to Politico.

In other words, she means to push vouchers, which would starve public schools of desperately needed funds, to advance her right-wing religious views. Nothing is more dangerous to liberal democratic values than that.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

IMAGE: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas