Letter to a Trump Supporter #4: Barack Obama’s Christian Faith

This is the fourth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about Christianity, he sent me a chain email accusing President Obama of silencing Christians and promoting Islam.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for passing along this email on America’s relationship with prayer. Some of it is true, but not all of it.

President Obama did not encourage schools to teach the Quran for extra credit, for example, and the so-called “Muslim Prayer Day” was not an official event hosted by either Congress or the President, but rather an unaffiliated group of Muslims exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

Actually, I would expect most Americans to be thrilled at the news of Muslims gathering peacefully, since that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting them to do, rather than turning toward violent extremism. “We need to change the face of Islam,” said one of the event organizers, “because we love America.” That sounds to me like something a Republican politician would say.

Similarly, there’s only a grain of truth in the claim that President Obama dismissed the National Day of Prayer ceremony. He never said anything about “not wanting to offend anyone.” George W. Bush is the only president who consistently held a ceremony at the White House. George H. W. Bush only did it once in four years, and Ronald Reagan only did it once in eight years. So they “dismissed” it too.

I have to say, I’m continually shocked at how Christian Americans can accuse President Obama of being anti-Christian, when he has spoken more eloquently about his Christian faith than any president since Lincoln.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read either of his memoirs, but he writes about his conversion to Christianity in great depth and vulnerability. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me,” he says. “I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”

Contrary to accusations that he’s against public prayer, he talks about his desire for it when he first joined a church, “I thought being part of a community and affirming my faith in a public fashion was important.”

He openly admits that his Christian beliefs shape his political decisions, “It’s hard for me to imagine being true to my faith — and not thinking beyond myself, and not thinking about what’s good for other people, and not acting in a moral and ethical way.”

He quotes Saint Augustine and the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, showing a rich understanding of the religion that few politicians can equal.

In fact, arguably the most memorable speech of the Obama presidency was his eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, where he wove together the American experience and the Christian experience, tracing our Christian values from the Declaration of Independence through Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to today.

If you haven’t seen it, you really owe it to yourself. Not only is his oratory masterful, but he sings “Amazing Grace,” a testament to his Christian beliefs more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen from an American politician.

But the thing that Republicans should love about this speech, especially in this heated time of racial debate and protests, is how he argues that Christianity teaches us to forgive the white murderer who killed the innocent black Americans whom he’s eulogizing. “The essence of what is right about Christianity is embedded here,” he told his staff before the funeral. “They welcomed the stranger. They forgave the worst violence.”

Those words came from the heart. His speechwriter drafted different words for much of that speech, but the president scratched them out and wrote his own. He explained to the young speechwriter that he knew what he wanted to say because he’d been “thinking about this stuff for 30 years.” This is a man who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of faith with impressive study and contemplation.

It’s not difficult to understand why so many myths have been promulgated about Barack Obama’s faith. He doesn’t look like what many Americans think a Christian looks like, and he takes the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution seriously.

But it is difficult to watch him be persecuted for his heritage and his tolerance. At least we can say that, in these experiences, he is following in the steps of many great Christians who have come before him, paving the way toward a kinder, more peaceful future against all the odds.

Best regards,
Anthony

Why #SCOTUS Upheld #ObamaCare

In celebration of the Supreme Court’s historic decision to uphold the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, we reproduce an excerpt from Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion on behalf of the majority:

Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. That, according to the Government, means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition—not owning health insurance—that triggers a tax—the required payment to the IRS. Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax.

The exaction the Affordable Care Act imposes on those without health insurance looks like a tax in many respects. The “[s]hared responsibility payment,” as the statute entitles it, is paid into the Treasury by “taxpayer[s]” when they file their tax returns. It does not apply to individuals who do not pay federal income taxes because their household income is less than the filing threshold in the Internal Revenue Code. For taxpayers who do owe the payment, its amount is determined by such familiar factors as taxable income, number of dependents, and joint filing status. The requirement to pay is found in the Internal Revenue Code and enforced by the IRS, which—as we previously explained—must assess and collect it “in the same manner as taxes.” This process yields the essential feature of any tax: it produces at least some revenue for the Government.

We have similarly held that exactions not labeled taxes nonetheless were authorized by Congress’s power to tax. In the License Tax Cases, for example, we held that federal licenses to sell liquor and lottery tickets—for which the licensee had to pay a fee—could be sustained as exercises of the taxing power. And in New York v. United States we upheld as a tax a “surcharge” on out-of-state nuclear waste shipments, a portion of which was paid to the Federal Treasury. We thus ask whether the shared responsibility payment falls within Congress’s taxing power, “[d]isregarding the designation of the exaction, and viewing its substance and application.” (United States v. Constantine). [Other examples include:] Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (“[M]agic words or labels” should not “disable an otherwise constitutional levy”); Nelson v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (“In passing on the constitutionality of a tax law, we are concerned only with its practical operation, not its definition or the precise form of descriptive words which may be applied to it”); United States v. Sotelo (“That the funds due are referred to as a ‘penalty’…does not alter their essential character as taxes”).

Although the payment will raise considerable revenue, it is plainly designed to expand health insurance coverage. But taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new. Some of our earliest federal taxes sought to deter the purchase of imported manufactured goods in order to foster the growth of domestic industry. Today, federal and state taxes can compose more than half the retail price of cigarettes, not just to raise more money, but to encourage people to quit smoking. And we have upheld such obviously regulatory measures as taxes on selling marijuana and sawed-off shotguns. Indeed, “[e]very tax is in some measure regulatory. To some extent it interposes an economic impediment to the activity taxed as compared with others not taxed.” That [the law] seeks to shape decisions about whether to buy health insurance does not mean that it cannot be a valid exercise of the taxing power.

While the individual mandate clearly aims to induce the purchase of health insurance, it need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS.

The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.

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This excerpt has been lightly edited to make it more readable to a lay audience.