If it waddles and quacks like a religious test, its a religious test.

The traditional first week flurry of actions, fake actions, and I am in charge now nonsense that is the standard for a new President have for Donald Trump perhaps been more interesting than most. His scatter shot use of Presidential Executive Orders, some meaningful, some not, shines new light on the ongoing problem of excessive Executive authority in the balance with a weak or dysfunctional Legislative Branch.  This is not new, but it does appear that over the long term  the power of the Executive Branch continues a steady upward curve of growth while the Legislative is flat at best and declining at worst.  A very troubling fact, and not one from an alternate set of information, but regardless of that lets review just two of the Trump Executive Orders.

One of the President’s actions was to sign an Executive Order saying that our military establishment would be expanded to include things like a three hundred ship navy and billions of dollars of other expenditures on our armed forces.  Setting aside the fact his fellow Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, must surely be rolling over in his grave, this Order is of course nonsense. Fortunately, we have not yet arrived at the place in our American form of government where the President can simply order that there will be billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars spent on some part of government without the money being authorized and appropriated by the Legislature.  This is an example of creating a photo op for a Presidential candidate to say to the people who voted for him, “see, I am doing what I said I would do” without really having to do anything other that sign a meaningless document. Political theater.

Other  Executive Orders in this current televised version of of I am the President are significantly less benign. I have watched with some dismay the President’s use of Executive Orders that actually start to implement some of the actions he promised in his campaign. Most of these actions reflect policy differences where there is disagreement, often profound disagreement, on the policy or on the best way to implement the policy. No one should be particularly surprised by these steps.  You may be dismayed, but if you are surprised you perhaps were not listening as closely to the campaign rhetoric as you might have.

This changed Saturday morning with the announcement of the new Executive Order stopping all immigration from Syria and seven other predominantly Muslim countries.  As part of this order, the President made the added standard for immigration that Christians would have a preference for being allowed into the United States.  This is an immoral and Constitutionally proscribed standard for immigration to our country.

This new standard of a Christian preference for immigrants to the United States is wrong on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start to express a rational statement defining how wrong it is without sounding like a raving maniac. Lets start with the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.  I have long been at least a bit mystified why this first section of the first amendment to the Constitution generates such apparent confusion.  The idea that any American can choose and follow any religion he or she prefers and that the government can enact no law limiting that right seems pretty clear.  Simply, the Government may not by its action show a preference for one religious belief or another.   There is no first among equals allowance in this language.  The language does not restrict Christian or any other belief, it just says that the government cannot tell you which belief, or even Christian or Muslim faction, you should follow.

The question that has generated such angst is what constitutes “an establishment of religion”.  What act or acts of government create or support the establishment of one religion as against hundreds of others?  In this case, the Presidential Order is quite clear, we are establishing Christianity is the religious standard for being allowed to immigrate into the United States.  This is a governmental act undertaken within our country which violates our Constitution by establishing a religious test for an American law even though its direct impact is not on people in the country, but rather those who want to come.

As a matter of general domestic and foreign policy the new Executive Order on immigration is just stupid.  What benefit do we obtain from demonizing all of the adherents of one of the largest religious groups in the world? Are there crazy religiously fanatical Muslims who wish us harm?  Of course there are and we must, in not only our own self interest but in the interest of hundreds of millions of people around the world, work to identify and deal with these crazy people.  The historical record is though very clear that indiscriminately identifying the entire pool of a segment of the world’s population as evil based on the horrendous acts of a small percentage of their members does no good in dealing with the destabilizing minority. It took a while, but the Catholic Church finally figured this out with the Protestants.

The US record in providing assistance or support to persecuted religions minorities in other countries is not particularly admirable.  Our failure to take any serious actions to ameliorate the terrible fate facing millions of Jews in Europe in the 1930s is but one example.  Had we relaxed our immigration laws just a little some time between 1930 and 1938 we would not have prevented the Holocaust horrors of 1938 to 1945 but many thousands who died in that tragedy might well have lived had we allowed more Jewish immigrants to come to our country.

The type of organized government sponsored horror we are witnessing in Syria is somewhat different in kind than what was done in Nazi Germany, but the principle is the same and the horror no less real.  For the President to say that under no circumstances will we allow anyone from Syria to come as an immigrant to the United States because they follow the Prophet Mohamed has a disturbingly familiar parallel with not allowing more German and Austrian Jews to immigrate in the 1930s.

Condemning this Presidential Executive Order limiting  immigration is not just a policy difference.  President Trump and those who agree with him feel strongly that immigration into the United States needs to be  much more restricted and that illegal immigration is out of control. Anyone may agree or disagree with that policy position.

A serious problem arises though when actions taken to implement a political position violate the clear language of our Bill of Rights and ignore our moral obligation to attempt to assist fellow human beings caught up in life threatening circumstances over which they have no control or ability to protect themselves from except by fleeing.  In those circumstances, we fail in our role as Americans and in the hope that as a country we provide to millions around the world if we do not go beyond political, policy differences and move to actions which transcend immediate local politics.

As  American citizens we must defend the standards of our Constitution. As human beings we must not fail in our duty to do whatever we reasonably can do to alleviate human suffering and remove innocent people from clear and present danger. This most recent Presidential Executive Order is an affront to our moral responsibilities and a violation of our Constitution.  It must  be withdrawn.




Robert Lenna

About Robert Lenna

My professional career has been involved in bringing to Maine the financial capital to build our infrastructure of housing, schools, roads, hospitals, colleges, water and sewer districts. As Executive Director of four independent state authorities charged with putting together public financing for hundreds of infrastructure projects I was responsible for bringing billions of dollar into the Maine economy.