Hyperbole Matters: Why President Trump and the media are both wrong on religion, the Constitution, and even Israel

(Breaking it down for Evangelical Christians)

After the last of many friends told me she is glad President Trump is bypassing the media in favor of his personal twitter account, I feel compelled to explain recent events to those who may be interested in their historic background — facts that cannot fit into 140 characters but have, as yet, failed to be well explained by the mainstream media.

Why did the 3-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allow a lower court’s “stay” to continue on Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven predominantly-Muslim countries? (In other words, why isn’t Trump’s order taking effect, since he is President and Commander-in-Chief and ultimately in charge of U.S. national security?)

Short answer: Words matter.

Or, put another way: “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

When Trump publicly proclaimed numerous times throughout his early campaign stops that he would like to halt Islamic immigration to the United States, people cheered. Now, when federal judges allow those words to be entered into the court record as motivation for an executive order that (in the judges’ opinion) Justice Department lawyers could not provide convincing evidence to support, Trump supporters argue that his stump speech should not matter.

I understand that most Republicans distrusted the Obama administration’s approach to radical Islamic terrorism. I understand that conservatives want to be assured by their new President that U.S. vetting procedures are secure. But, there is more going on here, ultimately involving the rule of law.

Two judicial precedents were at play in staying Trump’s executive order. The first precedent requires government to grant any person (citizen, green-card holder, or not) the privileges and immunities of the U.S. Constitution — habeas corpus, due process, and equality under the law.

If you are wondering why a college student from Iran, with a student visa, trapped outside the United States after visiting family, should be allowed to return to school regardless of Trump’s executive order, this is why. When President George W. Bush argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of legal cases (2004–2008) that Guantanamo Bay prisoners (who were foreign nationals and not U.S. citizens) did not have to be treated the same as U.S. citizens under the law, he lost. Yes, read it again. He lost.

The second judicial precedent at play dates from the 1970s. In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Supreme Court established a “test” for all legislation dealing with religion. Essentially, in the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”), no federal branch of government can make a law favoring one religion over another or favoring religion over non-religion. In essence, government must be completely neutral with regards to religion.

Evangelical Christians will balk at this interpretation of the First Amendment. The late Antonin Scalia believed that the Lemon test was wrong. However, Christians must also remember that the First Amendment was drafted after centuries of violence among supposed Christians.

Don’t forget that early American colonists were fleeing a Europe where Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics, and everyone was killing Quakers and Anabaptists (those who believed in — God forbid — adult baptism.)

Colonists brought their theological prejudices with them to the Americas. In New England, Puritans branded, banished, and executed Quakers, Maryland disenfranchised Catholics, and, in Virginia, Anglican Church attendance was mandatory by law.

In this milieu, early Baptists like Roger Williams truly believed that religion must be released from government interference if it was to be free from the errors associated with institutional power and pride.

Similarly, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison drafted prototypes of what would become the First Amendment, a protection from a stronger federal government using its new powers either for or in the name of religion. (It is clear from the historical record that this was their intent, just as it is also clear early members of Congress disagreed with the Madisonian interpretation.)

Fast forward to the 21st century. We now have multiple religions living amongst each other, along with agnostics and atheists. How is the First Amendment to be interpreted in this light? Since the 1970s it has been interpreted according to Lemon v. Kurtzman, so that when President Trump targets Islamic immigration (for example, allowing exceptions for members of minority religions — meaning Christianity — from within those same countries), the court sees a potential Constitutional problem.

One of the benefits of the rule of law is that we all fall under it. Our Constitution is the supreme law of the land, not Sharia, and not even the Bible. U.S. laws can reflect either, neither, or both, but they cannot be based expressly on them. This 21st century interpretation of the Constitution may be troubling to Christians, yet it is, in part, because of Christian arguments and infighting throughout history that we are where we are today.

We should be thankful that we live in a nation that still respects the rule of law. This is not to be taken lightly. Countries in the world that exhibit decades of civil strife, political violence, and revolution also have weak court systems and corrupt government bureaucracies that reward bribery over justice.

So, what’s wrong with the media?

The media often fall short in understanding and explaining the deep social divisions left by such judicial interpretations of the law. The final Guantanamo Bay case, Boumediene v. Bush, for example, was issued by a deeply divided 5–4 court (see: http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/SCOTUS/story?id=5048935&page=1).

On matters of religion, Justice Scalia had been joined by Justice Thomas in condemning the historicity of the Lemon test, potentially opening the door for its revision.

The media does a disservice to the public it seeks to inform when it forgets such political divisions existed when Obama became president and did not go away over the subsequent eight years. Nor should the media take lightly dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court. For many voters in 2016, the Supreme Court vacancy was the deciding issue.

Israel, Palestine, and the two-state solution is another example of media hyperbole. The two-state partition, mandated by the United Nations in 1947, contrary to media reports, has not been official U.S. policy since the 1990s. In fact, the two-state solution was not the stated aim of President Bill Clinton at Oslo (it was “land for peace”), nor at Camp David in 2000.

Doesn’t anyone remember the public uproar when first lady Hillary Clinton suggested a two-state solution in the 1990s? I do. I was a college student at the time, wondering what all the fuss was about, since the two-state roadmap was what the United Nations originally had intended for the region. (http://www.jpost.com/International/As-first-lady-Hillary-was-a-prized-Jewish-keynoter-until-she-kissed-Suha-Arafat-398658)

Doesn’t anyone remember when President George W. Bush announced a two-state solution in 2001 and later argued that he was the first U.S. President to publicly call for a Palestinian state? Reporters later quibbled with the Bush administration over whether he had indeed been first or if Bill Clinton deserved the honor for remarks he had made during the final weeks of his presidency — the point being the U.S. media, by then, believed the two-state solution to be the right call. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/04/AR2005100401410.html)

In other words, until 2001, U.S. presidential commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East crisis, based upon the acceptance of legitimate Palestinian aims — and not just as a potential solution to the problem of Israeli security — had NOT been publicly-stated, U.S. foreign policy.

The issue is not whether a two-state solution is just or workable, or even when it became an understood and understated State department goal. The issue is whether the media is capable of properly reporting on social divisions and political disagreements that have not gone away.

Yes, nuance is difficult to achieve in our rapid-fire media world. However, ignoring those with whom you disagree, does not make their opinions disappear, nor does it weaken the potency of their votes at the ballot box.

In fact, when the media gloss over divergent public opinion, such as trumpeting judicial decisions with which they agree or lambasting Presidential statements with which they do not, the media (knowingly or not) is doing the very thing of which it accuses Trump: marginalizing the “enemy” in order to discredit him. Welcome to Trump’s worldview…from the other side.

In their case, mainstream media outlets may feel justified in emphasizing what they feel are correct judicial interpretations of the Constitution and incorrect foreign policies toward the Middle East. Even more probable, they simply may not know anyone who believes differently than they do.

Whatever the reasons, their hysterical reporting stance towards Trump simply drives people like my friend to Twitter.

Back to Evangelical Christians:

We as Christians must remember that our nation’s laws are passed and interpreted by fellow members of our society. To the degree that those members reflect the justice and mercy of Christ is the degree to which our legislative and judicial systems will, as well. As Christians we must remember that the Great Commission for the Church — to spread the knowledge of Christ throughout ALL the world — also includes America.