Trump has tried to divert attention from his impeachment and trial by revving up fears that “religious freedom” is under attack in the nation, and he alone will protect it.

This is complete nonsense, but helps to explain why he appointed two new Supreme Court justices who have a history of overturning any efforts to separate church and state or to protect the secular nature of state action. Trump judges can be counted on to allow plaintiffs to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious beliefs. A pending decision by the High Court in the Espinoza case from Montana threatens to abolish state laws that prohibit public funding of religious schools.

Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with representatives of religious groups who want official endorsement of prayer in the schools, and Trump assured them, as Valerie Strauss wrote in The Answer Sheet, that there is “a growing totalitarian impulse on the far left that seeks to punish, restrict and even prohibit religious expression” and said the steps his administration was taking “to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools” were “historic.” Actually, students and anybody else in a public school already have the right to pray in public schools, and his administration’s new guidance changes little from that of earlier administrations.

Valerie Strauss included the transcript of his inflammatory and false statements in her post.

Peter Greene wrote that Trump had solved a problem that literally did not exist, since students already have the right to pray in school if they wish. 

Greene finds it amusing that Trump has inserted himself into two issues–religion and education–in which he literally has no interest at all.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times notes that Trump has appealed to evangelicals’ fear that the secular state is persecuting them. It is a divisive and false message.

In an editorial published on January 17, the Times wrote:

Not for the first time, President Trump is trying to score political points with his evangelical supporters by unveiling a “religious freedom” initiative that suggests, cynically, that Christianity in America is under sustained attack and that the federal government must come to its rescue. Needless to say, that is not the case.

The initiative unveiled on Thursday is best seen not as a considered response to a real problem but as a political statement in which the president is aligning himself with Christian conservatives whose support could be essential to his 2020 reelection. Its centerpiece is a “guidance” letter from the Department of Education reminding public schools that they must certify that they allow students to engage in “constitutionally protected prayer.” That’s a reference to voluntary prayer, not the official prayers that were outlawed by the Supreme Court in the 1960s.

In other words, the heart of this initiative is a reaffirmation of existing law. Trump isn’t the first president to put schools on notice that they must respect religious expression by their students. Substantially similar guidance was issued by the Clinton administration in 1995. But Trump is a past master of repackaging existing law involving religious freedom to make it appear that he is delivering to his religious supporters.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, took issue with Trump’s efforts to politicize religious issues.

When President Donald Trump leaked, at a rally for evangelical supporters in Florida on Jan. 3, that his administration would issue guidance about prayer in public schools, he started a mini-firestorm, and not just among the fired-up crowd.

When the guidance was released on Thursday (Jan. 16), however, it turned out to be hardly worth the excitement. According to long-settled legal and constitutional protections for religious expression in the public schools, public school students are free to pray, wear religious clothing and accessories and talk about their beliefs. Religious groups can meet on school grounds, and teachers can teach about religion as an academic subject. Religious liberty, in short, is already a treasured value in our nation’s public schools.

So why are the president and White House staffers making inflammatory and misleading statements, claiming our constitutional rights are under attack?

It could be that the administration simply wanted to remind public schools of their constitutional duties. But some comments officials made before and in their announcement of the guidance vastly overstated the supposed problem and echoed the claims of Christian nationalism, a dangerous movement that harms both Christianity and the United States by implying that to be a good American, one must be Christian…

For decades, public schools across the nation have modeled how religiously diverse populations can build relationships of trust and care, respecting the unique role that religion plays in people’s lives. Like our neighbors of all faiths, we are empowered by the First Amendment to live our beliefs in the public square, which includes the public school….

The law cannot anticipate the nuances of every situation that might arise at a given school, and sometimes a misunderstanding or misrepresented incident spurs a call to “bring back prayer” to our schools. In most cases, these misunderstandings simply create an opportunity to reaffirm commonsense guidance and constitutional principles that support voluntary, student-led religious exercise.

But using any incident to institute state-sanctioned prayer, written and delivered by school officials, should be deeply concerning for all Christians. For a Baptist, as I am, voluntary prayer is an important part of my religious practice, and it has been since I was a student in Texas public schools. Why should government schools have a say in how and whether our children pray?

Importantly, ensuring faith freedom for all isn’t only an issue of concern for Christians. If Christian nationalists were able to realize their goal and prioritize Christianity over other traditions in public schools, it is religious minorities who will suffer the most. In our religiously diverse society, why should our schools favor Baptists over Buddhists, Anglicans over atheists, or Methodists over Muslims.

Instead of demanding that a distorted vision of state-sanctioned Christianity be upheld by public schools, Trump should celebrate what public schools already are: a place where religious liberty ensures that Americans can work and learn together across lines of religious difference.

To guarantee religious freedom for students of all faiths and nonreligious students, we must embrace our nation’s constitutional vision that has served us well and push back against the dangerous influence of Christian nationalism.