What Donald Trump Doesn't Get About Religious Freedom

Dear Mr. Trump,

I heard your comments recently raising concerns about the ability of clergy to endorse you. Please allow us to put your mind at ease. Like all Americans, members of the clergy have every right to make an endorsement. I, myself have made such endorsements in the past - though forgive me for withholding mine for the moment. What we cannot do, however, is turn our sacred spaces into partisan battlegrounds. We cannot use the power given to us by the pulpit to compel our congregants to follow our political beliefs. We cannot commit our congregation's resources to pursue a partisan agenda.

While religious freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment, tax exemptions for religious organizations are not. They are relatively recent accommodations offered by the federal government in recognition of the value of having civil, politics-free spaces for worship, reflection and community. If houses of worship wish to abandon civility and acceptance - as many who've joined you seem ready and willing to do - they are free to do so, and merely need to be willing to pay taxes. Given that you seem to believe that it is smart for Americans to do whatever they can to pay as few taxes as possible, forgoing partisan politics is the way for religious communities to do so.

As you graciously pointed out, Christianity is indeed under siege in America. It is under siege by politicians barnstorming the country telling voters of faith that they should sacrifice their timeless religious ideals for short-term partisan gain. It is under siege by the lobby that you appear to have missed -- the Religious Right, that would see religion turned into a weapon, used to attack the rights of others. It is under siege by a candidate who would apparently use the power of the federal government to compel a display of religious faith in a shopping mall.

Let's put aside for a moment that the American Christian community is not monolithic in its perspective. Let me assure you they are well represented in the halls of power by able lobbyists determined to impose their narrow sectarian perspective on the rest of us. Believe me, Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed and their colleagues have a distinct ability to make their voices heard in Washington.

Mr. Trump, you are running for President of the United States. If elected, you will represent all Americans, regardless of faith or belief. We are a pluralistic, religiously diverse nation. Religion in this country has been able to thrive because of the protections like the Johnson Amendment, not in spite of them.

As you continue your campaign for president, I strongly urge you to stop marginalizing those outside the Christian faith, and stop using religion as a political weapon.

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