Republicans have been trying hard lately to rally their base in the face of midterm elections that aren’t looking promising right now. But getting the GOP rank-and-file excited hasn’t been easy. The massive tax cut Republicans planned to run on has polled poorly — not a surprise given that workers’ real wages have dropped while CEOs are cashing in. Immigration — usually a solid go-to issue — became a political dud for the GOP once the president started separating children from parents at the border. Even Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, hasn’t jazzed up the right like expected.
If the border and taxes and judges aren’t stirring Republican voters, what’s left for the GOP to turn to?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday the creation of a Trump administration “religious liberty task force” that will help protect religious communities from persecution across the country. The task force will operate within the Department of Justice, according to Sessions, who warned darkly: “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”
A good rule of thumb: When someone - liberal or conservative - announces that they’re doing something in the name of religion, be at least a little skeptical. And there’s a lot that should raise an eyebrow here.
Sessions didn’t offer many details Monday about precisely what his task force would be protecting — or how it would go about doing so. He did mention that “nuns were being forced to buy contraceptives” — an inaccurate reference to an Obama administration policy involving contraceptives and faith-based health insurance plans. Sessions also brought up the Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
What he didn’t mention, however, is that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on each of these issues in ways that favored conservatives. Earlier this year, the court ruled for that baker, Jack Phillips, in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. In 2016, the court threw out seven rulings favorable to the Obama administration’s contraceptive policy and sent the case back to lower courts.
In other words, the courts are doing their job protecting religion and those who practice it. There’s not much need for the administration to be the cavalry here, and in any case, Americans should get squirmy when their government decides it wants to start picking and choosing which religious causes are worth defending.
We can only hope that Sessions’ religious liberty task force is nothing more than the tired stunt it seems to be — a ploy to scare the so-called Religious Right off their couches and into the voting booth. Because as many in the faith community know, the greater danger to religion is those who play politics — or worse — in its name.