Rob Boston: ‘We have better morals than the Religious Right’
Rob Boston

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—Rob Boston joined the staff of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in 1987 and currently serves as director of communications. He frequently writes about the political goals of the Religious Right and other church-state issues, such as religion in public schools, tax aid to sectarian institutions, religious freedom—and “religious freedom.” He is the author of a number of books, including Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics. He also serves on the board of directors of the American Humanist Association. He spoke at the recent 77th annual AHA Conference in Las Vegas and agreed to an interview with People’s World.

What do you consider to be some of the worst things the Trump administration has done?

That’s difficult because there are so many. The attack on the Johnson Amendment would be high on that list. That’s the provision in federal law that prevents nonprofits, including houses of worship, from getting involved in partisan politics by endorsing or opposing candidates. Trump has vowed to “destroy” it—even though abolishing the provision threatens to turn our churches into PACs. So far we’ve saved it but we must be vigilant.

We’ve also been alarmed by Trump’s attacks on LGBTQ rights, especially his efforts to roll back the rights of the trans community. He has decimated women’s reproductive rights by calling for the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood and by reinstituting the gag rule against doctors discussing the option of abortion with their patients. Of course he has a compliant Congress to do his bidding. The “religious freedom” that he asserts gives employers and private businesses the right to discriminate against others and cause them harm.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, clearly cares not one whit for public education. She seems to spend most of her time scheming to privatize secondary education in America. She simply does not care that 90 percent of American parents rely on the public schools to educate their children.

Trump’s Muslim ban is also appalling and offensive to American values of tolerance and religious freedom.

Surely that’s not all…

Oh, no, you’re just getting me started! But I think the area where Trump is doing the most damage is the federal judiciary. He’s stacking our courts with far-right ideologues, in some cases appointing men and women directly from Religious Right legal groups. Trump may serve four years or eight, but at some point, he will be gone. Most of those judges, however, will still be on the bench long after Trump is out of office. If he gets another Supreme Court appointment, we could see the high court under the control of the far right for a generation.

That’s why elections are so important. When you cast your vote, you are voting, by extension, for federal judges.

Does Trump really believe the things he says to the Religious Right about faith and God?

I’ve always hesitated to make judgments about a person’s religious beliefs because you never know what’s in someone’s heart. But in the case of Trump, I’ll make an exception! I doubt he truly believes any of the “God and country” gibberish he spouts. He’s biblically illiterate, and his personal life is a dumpster fire. Prior to running for office, Trump was never one to thump the Bible. Religious Right groups lap up what he offers because they’re getting what they want—real, tangible changes in public policy.

Doesn’t that make them hypocrites?

Yes, it sure does. Just imagine what people like Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., John Hagee, Tim Wildmon and others would be saying if it came to light that a progressive president had paid a porn star $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair. Yet these people not only say nothing critical about Trump, they’ve actually gone out of their way to make excuses for him. Franklin Graham has gone so far as to suggest that God put Trump in office. The phrase “God works in mysterious ways” is not actually from the Bible, but a lot of fundamentalists seem to believe it. Graham’s assertion takes that adage to new extremes.

Sooner or later, will Religious Right groups take a big hit from their association with Trump?

One can only hope. For decades these neo-Puritans have been running amok, attacking feminists, members of the LGBTQ community, advocates of sound science, progressives, public school teachers, advocates of comprehensive sex education, etc. They’ve never hesitated to judge anyone who falls short of their narrow view of morality. Yet they can’t be bothered to utter even one word of protest against a guy who openly bragged about how great it is when you can get away with sexually assaulting women when you’re rich and famous. In my view, leaders and followers of the Religious Right, through their alliance with Trump, have surrendered their right to judge the rest of us.

These groups claim to be concerned about morals and call themselves “values voters,” but they are hard to take seriously. This is a question of ethics—which, by the way, they never talk about. My wife and I raised two children, and I have a simple challenge for the leaders of the Religious Right: If Trump is such a great moral leader, are they willing to point to this thrice-married guy with kids by each of his wives plus numberless affairs on the side, and tell their children to emulate this behavior? If not, they really need to clam up. Frankly, we have better morals than the Religious Right.

What about religious communities that are not part of the Religious Right? Is there a role for them to play? I see ministers and rabbis out on the streets defending immigrants and workers’ rights.

Absolutely! We need to hear the voices of progressive and moderate religious leaders. Many are speaking out, and I hope that trend continues. These faith leaders play an important role by reminding the nation that the Religious Right does not speak for most Americans when it comes to religion. At Americans United, we work to bring together a broad array of voices, religious and nonreligious, to support religious freedom as it was meant to be understood. Historically, many religious leaders have stood up for the rights of the oppressed and for members of minority groups. We welcome the support of religious communities in the current struggle. They have much to offer.

Actually, progressive and moderate religious leaders have a firmer grasp of history than the Religious Right. The United States was not conceived as a Christian nation. Our founders believed, and it’s enshrined in the Constitution, that the state should not take a stand on matters of theology. That is one reason religions have flourished in America—because a state religion was never foisted on our diverse and unruly citizenry, so people are free to support any of the hundreds of denominations out there, or none.

Evangelize, sure, but on your own time and on your own dime.

You’ve painted a pretty grim picture. Is there a glimmer of hope?

Yes, there is always hope, and I don’t say that just to comfort myself. If you look at some key issues, there’s been a sea change. Marriage equality, for example. Majorities of people have rejected the rigid views of fundamentalist religions—and many of the mainstream faiths have evolved and adopted progressive views.

A lot of self-defined Christians simply do not accept the bootstrap capitalist Jesus of the Heritage Foundation. They do not recognize such a person when they read their Bible.

The Religious Right claims to know what happens to people when they die. They don’t! More and more people who claim to profess no religion—what we call the “nones”—have decided they can be good people and not because they fear punishment or expect a reward.

In my travels around the country, I can sense that people are angry, and they want to be involved in resistance movements. I’ve been impressed by some of the marches we’ve seen since Trump took office. My wife and I were among the crowd that marched in Washington, D.C., after Trump’s inauguration. You could feel the energy.

The challenge is to keep that spirit alive. I sometimes think that Trump is trying to wear us down with his outrageous tweets, offensive executive orders and reckless policy proposals. We can’t let that happen. We can’t get worn down. We have a lot more work to do to get this country back on the path of sanity. It’s doable, but it won’t happen if we disengage.

Now, some folks are beyond reaching. The solution is organize, organize, organize, and outnumber them.

For more information about Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, see their website.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.