Since taking office in early 2017, President Trump has touted himself and his administration as ardent defenders of religious freedom. In practice, questions have been raised over the Trump Administration’s policies toward religious minorities, and perceived favoritism toward his religious right-wing base. Among the major religious groups in the United States, the Trump Administration is often viewed as being anti-Muslim and pro-Evangelical Christian. Certain policies enacted by the administration have fed this sentiment, most prominently the controversial “Muslim Ban” that limited travel from certain Muslim-majority nations. President Trump has also repealed Obama-era regulations that protect the public from religious discrimination and unwanted proselytizing under the premise of supporting religious groups.
Despite the Trump Administration’s claim that it equally supports every religion, a significant percentage of Americans find that the president has a clear hierarchy that defines how religions are viewed. According to a Pew Research survey, 43% of Americans believe that the Trump Administration has had a positive effect on Evangelical Christians, while only 11% said that President Trump has had a negative effect on Evangelicals. Conversely, only 7% of the surveyed population found that the president has had a positive effect on Muslims, with 48% saying that the administration has had a negative effect. In the middle, 29% of responders said the Trump Administration had a positive impact on Jews, with 26% against.
A potential reason for the skewed approval rating of the administration from these groups is the legislation that has been enacted that affects each religion. The Trump Administration has pursued policies that Evangelicals overwhelmingly agree with, such as anti-abortion, and the protection of persecuted Christians abroad. The administration has also attempted to foster support from certain right-wing Jewish groups by moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. On the other hand, the Trump Administration’s treatment of Muslims hasn’t earned it much goodwill. The now infamous travel ban fostered uncertainty between Muslim-Americans and the administration in its first months, and President Trump’s bigoted rhetoric against Muslims has not helped their relationship. Additionally, the president’s tacit support for Islamophobic entities on social media has been carefully noted. The contrasting treatment shown to these groups by the president and his administration is a defining reason for the stark difference in how the government is viewed by religious organizations.
Since being elected, the Trump Administration has been strongly pro-life. Despite the president’s questionable history with supporting abortion, his administration has had a strong focus on promoting pro-life policies and organizations. Additionally, the president campaigned on repealing Roe v. Wade in 2016, further signaling his support for the pro-life movement. This support has been received extraordinarily well among Christian groups, particularly Evangelicals. In February, President Trump became the first ever sitting president to attend the March for Life, where he gave a speech affirming his commitment to the movement. Experts have categorized this moment as the president directly addressing his Evangelical base and further aligning himself with them.
Another policy pursued by the Trump Administration that is well-received by Christians is the protection of persecuted Christian minority populations abroad. The Trump Administration has taken steps to ensure that Christian minorities are protected from religious violence internationally through financial and logistical support. In recent months alone, Christians have been targeted on the basis of their religion in Nigeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. To combat this, the Trump Administration has provided aid to local Christian populations, and has also helped persecuted individuals secure refugee visas to Western nations. Even the travel restriction on Muslim-majority nations provided an exception that would allow for Christians to be exempted and given priority refugee filing status. Vice President Mike Pence has taken an active role in spearheading the administration’s response, calling the protection of persecuted Christians a “foreign policy priority of enormous importance” for the Trump Administration.
Turning to the Trump Administration’s treatment of Jewish people, President Trump issued an executive order late last year that classified Jews as a protected group under Title VI to defend against anti-Semitic discrimination. Title VI bans discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or color for programs or entities that receive federal funding. Title VI does not specifically protect against religious discrimination, so the executive order officially re-classified Jews as an ethnicity to ensure their protection under it. This was done to combat anti-Semitic hate crimes, which have been on the rise since Trump took office. The signing of the executive order was carefully curated to combat what the administration views as growing levels of anti-Semitism on college campuses. One such example of this is the burgeoning BDS or Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which seeks to economically weaken the State of Israel. To the political left, the BDS movement is viewed as a peaceful protest against Israel’s human rights violations. To the right, it is seen as economic warfare specifically targeting the only Jewish state on the planet.
The Trump Administration has received both compliments and criticism on its policies toward Jewish-Americans, with an ideological split defining each side. Critics have accused the new policy as being too open-ended, and equating Zionism with Judaism. They argue that criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestine is fair under the First Amendment, and criticizing the State of Israel for human rights violations isn’t the same as being anti-Semitic. On the other hand, proponents of the Trump Administration’s policy argue that by undermining the State of Israel, critics are denying Jews’ right to self-determination, which is anti-Semitic. This ideological split could also be a reason why the Pew Research survey is fairly even when examining the Trump Administration’s impact on Jews in the United States.
Among the three major religions in the United States, the Trump Administration’s treatment of Muslims is the most polarizing. The “Muslim Ban” was enacted shortly after President Trump came into office and has set the stage for confrontation between his administration and Muslim groups. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump proposed aggressive watch lists and surveillance of Muslim communities based on Islamophobic beliefs which weren’t based on facts. Additionally, President Trump has called Muslim refugees “terrorists” and hinted at Muslim-Americans being happy after the September 11 attacks. The president has also elevated advisors who have a history of anti-Muslim remarks and sentiment, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
In contrast to the Trump Administration’s efforts to embrace Christians and Jews, Muslims have not had the same outreach. Policies such as restricting entry from Muslim-majority nations inherently undermine the Trump Administration’s claim to be an ardent defender of religious freedom. Furthermore, the Trump Administration and its allies have repeatedly singled out the lone female Muslim Congressional members for criticism and to raise doubts over where their loyalties lie. Questions over their national loyalty are never asked of other political rivals, which further illustrates the Trump Administration’s opinion toward Muslims.
The difference in the Trump Administration’s policies toward each of the major religious groups in the United States is striking. The administration has ignited hostilities between itself and Muslims, which is illustrated in the recent Pew Research survey data regarding American perceptions on the effect it has had on members of the various faith groups. President Trump has personally discriminated against Muslims through the executive order that led to the “Muslim Ban” and he has elevated cabinet members who hold Islamophobic views. Until actions and sentiments such as these change, the Trump Administration’s claim of being an ardent defender of religious freedom across the board is merely rhetoric.