Fox News Halftime Report

Freedom of religion or freedom from government?

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Freedom of religion or freedom from government? - GOP gambles House control on ObamaCare cuts - Analysis: Late-breaking voters tipped election to Trump - Le Pen reeling ahead of vote over claimed Russia ties - You see, officer, the movie’s title is ironic 

FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR FREEDOM FROM GOVERNMENT?
The nature of America’s first freedom has only become much of an issue in the past two generations.

After all, in a nation that was almost homogeneously Christian and overwhelmingly Protestant, what was the use of the federal government establishing a religion anyway?

But as America has become more religiously diverse and, especially in recent years, irreligious, we are having a harder time with the concept that is lazily referred to as “separation of church and state.”

The current agitation on the subject concerns and executive order issued with much fanfare by President Trump this week. It was expected to be a broadside from the Christian right in the culture wars. It was instead so light of a volley that the ACLU withdrew its objections after seeing the final version.

Conservative Christians have been increasingly worried about government mandates that compel them to act against their faiths. When we hear stories of state officials forcing providers of wedding services to accommodate same-sex customers or the infamous case of the Obama administration trying to make nuns pay for birth control, we see why the alarm is growing.

As America becomes less Christian, Christians are having a harder time of it.

This explains the rather muted praise for Trump’s order, with Family Research Council Tony Perkins calling it a “significant first step.” This, of course, suggests that he and his fellows see more needed steps to come.

Gregory Baylor, a lawyer who specializes in religious liberty cases, went further, describing it as “disappointingly vague.”

While the order was lacking in the eyes of some Christians when it came to the idea of birth control and other claims of conscience, it was straight forward about what is known in Washington as the “Johnson Amendment.”

That provision, crafted by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson in 1954 which holds that religious groups can lose their tax exempt status if they engage in electioneering.

Since it does not restrict religious expression, but rather makes conditional an economic benefit offered to religious groups, many constitutional scholars have deemed the measure acceptable.

There seems to be no known instance of the IRS actually enforcing this provision, but it has weighed on the choices pastors and other clergy members have made. We don’t know how many churches, mosques or synagogues would have been endorsing candidates or organizing fundraisers for partisan purposes without the rule, but there has no doubt been an effect over time.

By making clear that the IRS is not to enforce the rule, we enter a new chapter in the story of the exercise of First Amendment rights.

Which church will be the first one to organize for a candidate in next year’s primary? Which will be the first one to use its vans and buses to take parishioners to a campaign rally? Which will be the first to hold a fundraiser?

Christians especially have long debated the proper role of their faith in public life, ranging from a Jesuitical enthusiasm for social justice to an Augustinian rejection of the “City of Man.” This is not easy stuff for theologians, let alone pastors of individual congregations. 

The enticement toward preaching politics rather than the Gospel has always been with Christianity, usually with fairly dire results.

For decades, the American left has warned of a growing theocratic bent in America. Demographics and reality both contradict this fear-mongering. Whatever pieties our leaders may mouth, it is silly to suggest that religious rule is coming.

What we may be seeing, however, is an even more complete weaponizing of religion for political purposes. It is not likely to be hard to keep the church out of the state, but one imagines it will be increasingly hard to keep the state out of the church.

THE RULEBOOK: STRONG HAND, LIGHT TOUCH
“One thing, at all events, must be evident, that a government like the one proposed would bid much fairer to avoid the necessity of using force, than that species of league contend for by most of its opponents…” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 27

TIME OUT: MEN WITHOUT WOMEN
Paris Review: “On a recent afternoon in Boston, Betsy Fermano walked through an exhibition titled ‘Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars’ … she spotted a family name in a manuscript on display: Coates. Frances Elizabeth Coates was Fermano’s grandmother and [Ernest Hemingway]’s high-school classmate. He used a version of her name ‘Liz Coates’ … That’s because Hemingway was infatuated with her. … The nineteen-year-old Hemingway remained so enamored of his former classmate that he wrote to his sister Marcelline, asking her to ‘call up Frances Coates and tell her that your brother is at death’s door. And that will she please, no excuses, write to him. Make her repeat the address after so that she will have no alibi. Tell her that I love her or any damn thing.’ … The correspondence dates to a time when Hemingway was not yet famous—he had only a handful of short stories to his name.”

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GOP GAMBLES HOUSE CONTROL ON OBAMACARE CUTS
Nate Silver
looks ahead to potential 2018 consequences from the House-passed ObamaCare cuts package. FiveThirtyEight: “The biggest effects of the bill will be on the millions of additional Americans who would go without health insurance if a similar bill is passed by the Senate. But it could also endanger the job prospects of the Republican members of Congress who voted for it and make a Democratic takeover of the House substantially more likely in 2018. The previous version of the AHCA — which died in the House in March before it came to a floor vote — was an exceptionally unpopular bill. Polls in mid-March had opposition outweighing support for the bill by an average of almost 15 percentage points, and the numbers were getting worse; most notoriously in a Quinnipiac poll that showed just 17 percent of Americans supporting the bill and 56 percent opposed. The various amendments to the AHCA since then — which were mostly made to placate the Freedom Caucus and have pushed the bill further to the right — aren’t likely to make it any more popular.”

Ratings downgrade for many House incumbents - USA Today: “‘It’s called spending your political capital,’ said David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. ‘Elections have consequences and majorities tend to use their majority to do things that are unpopular,’ said Wasserman, who told USA TODAY he is changing ratings on close to two dozen races to reflect the increased political liability.”

A much-needed win for embattled Priebus - NYT: “President Trump placed much of the blame for his first, failed push to repeal the Affordable Care Act in March on Mr. Priebus… He told aides that he believed the damaging loss had resulted in no small part from Mr. Priebus’s too-rosy vote-count predictions and his too-cozy relationship with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite. … But he viewed it as a personal make-or-break moment…”

[Crikey! Sanders hops on Trump praise for Australia’s universal coverage - New York Daily News]

HOW IT’S PLAYING
A big win for Trump, GOP as House narrowly passes Obamacare overhaul” - Dallas Morning News

The health care bill now faces a tough road in the Senate Miami Herald

California's Republicans all voted yes on the healthcare bill. Now Democrats have a campaign issue - LAT

Medicaid cuts bad news for special education” - Columbus Dispatch

Paul Ryan wins a near-party-line showdown on health care” - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

LE PEN REELING AHEAD OF VOTE OVER CLAIMED RUSSIA TIES
The (London) Times – “Today is the final day of campaigning by Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron in the French election but the far-right leader already appears defeated after a bad-tempered TV debate. National Front supporters and social media blamed her for alienating voters by seeking to blacken the name of her 39-year-old rival rather than explaining her policies. Towards the end of the two-and-a- half-hour debate, Ms. Le Pen’s allegation that he had avoided tax by moving money offshore backfired when Russian fake news stories seeming to endorse her claims began to appear on the internet. Even though the stories were quickly dismissed, it drew accusations that the front had colluded with the Kremlin to discredit Mr. Macron.”

ANALYSIS: LATE-BREAKING VOTERS TIPPED ELECTION TO TRUMP
CBS News: “Voters in key swing states who settled on a candidate just before Election Day, along with polls that surveyed too few voters without a college degree, were among the culprits behind overconfidence that Hillary Clinton was sure to beat Donald Trump in the race for the White House, a new report suggests. The analysis of 2016's pre-election polls, released Thursday by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, found evidence that Trump voters were more likely than Clinton voters to reveal their preference to pollsters only after the election. But it found little evidence that that's because they were reluctant to reveal their decision to pollsters at all. … They note that state polls missed by a wider margin on average than they had in the four previous presidential elections. Polls showing Clinton ahead in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin fueled perceptions that she had a ‘Blue Wall’ in the Electoral College — a wall that collapsed on Election Day.”

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -8 points
Change from one week ago: +1 points

POWER PLAY: HICKORY DICKORY DOCK
A former U.S. Ambassador and a radio show host walk on to the Power Play set, but there’s only enough pork grinds for one of them… Who will it be? Chris Stirewalt is back with another round of “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt” weekly news trivia game, with this week’s contestants John Bolton and Chris Plante. Play along! WATCH HERE

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Senate investigators seeking Trump campaign communications with RussiansNYT

Trump Administration fires White House general manager - WaPo

Spring fling: April jobs numbers show rebound - The Hill

Freedom Caucus drafting its own tax reform Politico

Ivanka Trump lobbies EPA boss ahead of Paris climate meeting - Axios

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Priebus on what’s next for GOP health cuts -
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus discusses next steps on GOP cuts to ObamaCare and national security threats abroad on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

AUDIBLE: LEGISLATIVE FLOW
“The AHCA is like a kidney stone - the House doesn't care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it. #sassywithmassie” – Tweet on the passing of the health care bill from Rep. Thomas Massie R-Ky.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Wanted to expand on your ‘deposed royal house’ comment from yesterday. I've been thinking recently (since that ridiculous Chelsea Clinton Variety cover) about the similarities between the Clintons and the House of Stuart. First, in Bill Clinton, we had our version of the licentious ‘Merry Monarch,’ Charles II. Now we have Bonnie Prince Chelsea.” – Jack Lewis, Charlotte, NC

[Ed. note: I have heard of referring to Democrats as Jacobins but this is the first that I have heard of them called Jacobites!]    

“I despise Obama, but I believe former presidents earned the pension that they receive (even Carter). I also believe they should be allowed to earn whatever income they can after the presidency. They should however be restricted on political advocacy, G.W. should be a role model of a former president. What say you?” – Mike Owens, Resaca, Ga.

[Ed. note: I say that many people would agree with your assessment of the 43rd president’s conduct in retirement. As for your proposed limits on political advocacy, though, I’m not so sure. I think there is something to be said for John Quincy Adams who returned to Congress after leaving the White House. I’ve always thought that’s kinda cool. Certainly, William Taft’s service on the Supreme Court is a laudable way to end a storied career in public life.]

“Seems to me that selling ‘war bonds’ during the world wars we fought worked very well toward funding the efforts. Instead of Go Fund Me, why not float a border wall bond backed by the ‘full faith and etc.’ of the U. S. Government?” John Quigley, Brackettville, Texas

[Ed. note: That’s quite an interesting idea, Mr. Quigley! We should remember, of course, that war bonds were not historically for war expenditures, per say, but rather for general revenues for the government and, of course, to fight wartime inflation. But it’s intriguing to think of an I-Tunes era version in which individuals could purchase bonds to finance specific projects. I don’t know if whether it could be made practical but it could be an interesting cousin to the already-discussed concept of allowing taxpayers to earmark their own returns.]

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YOU SEE, OFFICER, THE MOVIE’S TITLE IS IRONIC 
Orlando Sentinel: “A Lake County [Fla.] deputy sheriff has been fired for playfully waving his firearm and Taser while quoting lines from Denzel Washington’s character in ‘Training Day,’ an action movie about a corrupt cop, the Sheriff’s Office said Thursday. Deputy Dean Zipes, who was hired in December 2015, was fired April 21 for the incident and other allegations that he twice pulled out his firearm in an office setting and once made a motion to draw his service weapon at a pizza delivery boy, joking that he was alleged Orlando cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Zipes was quoting a profanity-laced scene in the 2001 movie about 4 a.m. Feb. 16 in which Washington’s character points two pistols at a rape suspect and rubs his weapons together in front of a police trainee, according to an internal-affairs report. … Zipes said he doesn’t know what ‘sparked’ his actions that morning, but that he was trying to be funny…”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“But the irony is in the end, I think ObamaCare wins the day because it changed expectations.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.