(RNS) Whoever wrote President Trump’s Prayer Breakfast speech did a pretty good job.
There was the requisite amount of personal piety:
I was blessed to be raised in a churched home. My mother and father taught me that to whom much is given, much is expected. I was sworn in on the very Bible from which my mother would teach us as young children, and that faith lives on in my heart every single day.
God put in many appearances, not least via a tip of the Trumpian hat to His insertion, 64 years ago, into the Pledge of Allegiance:
Because that’s what we are and that is what we will always be and that is what our people want; one beautiful nation, under God.
A presidential seal of approval was likewise affixed to American religious pluralism:
You represent so many religions and so many views. But we are all united by our faith, in our creator and our firm knowledge that we are all equal in His eyes.
And the world’s most famous billionaire even added a soupçon of anti-materialism: “The quality of our lives is not defined by our material success but by our spiritual success.”
But the main order of business was a declaration of zealous support for religious liberty.
The president reiterated his campaign pledge to, as he put it, “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
You wonder whether he realizes that the Johnson Amendment — the 63-year-old provision of the U.S. tax code that prohibits religious organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates — applies to all 501(c)3s. Which means that getting rid of and totally destroying it will permit every non-profit in the land, from Harvard University and the Gates Foundation to Planned Parenthood and Friends of the Earth, to engage in electoral politics.
“We have seen peace-loving Muslims brutalized, victimized, murdered, and oppressed by ISIS killers,” said the president, as if to repudiate charges that his executive order temporarily barring immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries was plain old Islamophobia.
“We have seen threats of extermination against the Jewish people,” he continued. “We have seen a campaign of ISIS and genocide against Christians, where they cut off heads. Not since the Middle Ages have we seen that.”
Actually we saw that during the French Revolution, but never mind. The key thing was to get across that message that, as he put it, “terrorism” (n.b. not “radical Islam” or “radical Islamic terrorism”) “is a fundamental threat to religious freedom” here in America too.
His administration, Trump pledged, “will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in our land. America must forever remain a tolerant society where all faiths are respected and where all of our citizens can feel safe and secure.”
Cool. But what came next was not a promise to protect the religious liberty of, say, Muslim Americans, but rather:
There are those who would seek to enter our country for the purpose of spreading violence, or oppressing other people based upon their faith or their lifestyle, not right. We will not allow a beachhead of intolerance to spread in our nation. You look all over the world and you see what’s happening.
So in the coming days, we will develop a system to help ensure that those admitted into our country fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty. And that they reject any form of oppression and discrimination. We want people to come into our nation, but we want people to love us and to love our values, not to hate us and to hate our values.
As chutzpah goes, that’s not bad. Having just spent a campaign giving aid and comfort to anti-Muslim bigotry, Trump now declares that his anti-immigration order is all about safeguarding the sacred American value of tolerance.
Come to think of it, tolerance is a pretty sacred Canadian value too. The kid who shot up that mosque in Quebec City the other day often spoke admiringly of Donald Trump.
There’s a beachhead of intolerance for you.