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When the Religious Right Influences Public Policy

By Bob Gatty.

Ever since President Trump has been in office the religious right and ultra conservative lawmakers have clamored to influence federal policies, particularly those affecting education and healthcare.

It’s remarkable that these groups support Trump, who cannot be described as a devout Christian given his many transgressions, but he has repaid their loyalty with the appointment of Betsy Devos as secretary of education. Devos is doing everything she can to steer public money toward religious instruction and roll back state and federal authority over public schools, while supporting religious schools.

Fundamentalist, conservative religious beliefs are now directly influencing federal governmental policy, a development that many would argue is a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, the influence of these groups has become evident in health policy and even in Trump’s own attitudes, as reported by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

• A research contract that uses fetal tissue to test for new treatments for HIV apparently is being cancelled by the Trump administration largely at the behest of antiabortion politicians and social conservatives who support President Trump.

• On December 6, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that her boss has no problem with businesses displaying anti-gay signs and refusing to serve gay customers.

Huckabee made the comment in answer to a reporter’s question following arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in which an anti-gay baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs, in violation of an anti-discrimination law in Colorado.

She was asked by a reporter if Trump agrees with the idea of businesses posting signs stating they will not serve gays if it violates their religious beliefs. She said yes, that would be his view.

I ask you: how is this any different than the now prohibited sign that in days before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that might have read: “No Blacks Allowed”?

It’s that mentality that the administration is bringing to all matters involving the LGBTQ community, including an edict banning transgender persons from serving in the military. Of course, the LGBTQ community is the population most affected by HIV/AIDS.

The controversy over the National Institutes of Health (NIH) contract with the University of California at San Francisco is part of a growing conflict between conservatives opposed to research using fetal tissue and scientists who contend the material is essential to developing new therapies for such diseases as AIDS and Parkinson’s.

Nearly every drug for treating or preventing HIV infection reportedly has been tested at the UCSF laboratory and an affiliate through this method, which involves incubating human T cells in mice. Scientists say there is no substitute to assess drugs at that early stage of development. The NIH contract has provided all the funding for the lab’s HIV work.

Although officials said in September they were considering whether the government should support research involving fetal tissue “in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved,” they now claim they have not yet made a decision on the matter.

However, since President Trump has been in office congressional conservatives and antiabortion activists have pressured the administration to stop government support for research studies they say use “body parts” from “unborn babies”, claiming that alternatives exist.

All of this is reflective of an attitude within the Trump administration that is decidedly anti-gay, homophobic, and one that bends to the views and desires of its fundamentalist and politically conservative supporters – including Rebekah Mercer, the leader of a super PAC that contributed heavily to Trump’s election.

So once again, money talks – and so does pressure from right wing supporters who care little about science or about finding lifesaving cures for deadly diseases, so long as they are not affected.

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