This is the first opportunity I’ve had to tell you about my consequential trip to New York City on June 21. I went there to meet with GOP presidential candidate (and now nominee) Donald Trump. There were 1,000 Christian leaders at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel that day, where most of us stayed. Our purpose was not to endorse Mr. Trump, but to have a candid “conversation” with him. We wanted to ask the candidate specific questions about his personal views and policies, and to ascertain how he will govern if given the opportunity.
The day began early that Tuesday morning at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. About 40 well-known Christian leaders met with the candidate in his conference room on the 25th floor. I joined many evangelical leaders who care deeply about our country’s future. About 25 of us from that gathering were asked to serve as the anchor of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. It will continue in the White House if he is successful in November. (See the names of these members at the end of this column.)
The initial meeting at the Trump Tower opened with him speaking briefly, followed by introductory remarks from Jerry Falwell Jr. and a prayer by Franklin Graham. I was then given the opportunity to pose the first question, as follows:
I said, “Mr. Trump, I’m sure you know that the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, seeking freedom to worship as their consciences dictated. Their passion for Jesus Christ became ingrained in the American soul, and greatly influenced our Founding Fathers as they formed a new government in the 18th century. These men wrote and passed the historic U.S. Constitution, and added to it a Bill of Rights shortly thereafter. It consisted of 10 Amendments guaranteeing specific liberties for the American people. There has never been anything like it in the history of the world. The first of the 10 Amendments secured religious liberties for all citizens and provided the foundation for the other nine.”
I continued, “In recent years, however, there has been a growing assault on these rights, notably religious liberty. Our Supreme Court has struck down Bible reading in schools and even prohibited prayer to an unidentified God. Then, they banned the posting of the Ten Commandments on bulletin boards. From there, the limitation on religious liberties has become even more egregious.
“Most recently, President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been referring to ‘freedom of worship,’ rather than ‘freedom of religion.’ Do you understand their motive? They are suggesting that Americans are free to worship in their churches and synagogues, but not in the public square.”
With that background, I asked Mr. Trump the following question, both in the smaller meeting and again in the larger assembly:
I said, “Sir, if you are elected president, how will you protect our religious liberties? Will we have to fight another revolutionary war to secure those rights to worship, think and speak?”
Donald Trump was very sympathetic to the concerns I expressed, although I can’t remember his precise words. I do recall he said it was an outrage that Christians have been deprived of their rights to speak openly on behalf of the values and principles in which they believe. He was especially exercised by a 1954 tax-code amendment by then Sen. Lyndon Johnson. Jerry Falwell Jr. said Johnson had rammed this amendment through Congress without public scrutiny. It seriously limited freedom of religion, especially religious speech, by leaders of churches and non-profit organizations. The Johnson amendment contained language that prohibited the faith community from expressing their opinions about political parties and those seeking power. That law plagues us to this day. Trump rightly condemned the legislation, which muzzled those of us who would otherwise use our influence to support our beliefs. He called that provision “unfair,” and promised to overturn it if he is elected. That would have a great impact on Washington because it would unleash Christian activists to fight for their beliefs.
Read more at My battle with Christian media about Trump.