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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

First Coast Connect: Rob Boston Talks Separation of Church and State

rob_boston.jpg
VERONICA HALL
/
WJCT News
Mellissa Ross, on right, and Rob Boston.

The line between church and state is in danger of becoming more blurred under the current administration, said Rob Boston, director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Boston was on First Coast Connect on Wednesday to discuss issues he felt most pressing, including President Trump’s plan to sign an executive order to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which makes it illegal for any tax-exempt, non-profit organization to oppose or support political figures.

If passed, Boston said religious leaders will be able to make their political donations tax-deductible while publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate from church.

“We’ve been hearing rumors about this executive order for months now,” he said. “It’s problematic to say the least.”

Boston added that the plan might also lead to discrimination by allowing federal agencies to refuse service to the LGBT community based on their religious beliefs.

“Really, I don’t think it’s really a religious freedom provision so much as it is a codifying discrimination provision,” Boston said.

Boston also discussed an upcoming Supreme Court case involving Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources and the Trinity Lutheran Church. This will be the first religious freedom case that newly sworn-in and traditionally conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear.

“This is a concern,” Boston said. “This is a very important case because it has the potential to really redraw the lines between church and state in this country.”

The case began in 2012, when Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources rejected the church’s application for a public grant to acquire recycled rubber chips for its preschool playground.

“Traditionally in America, religious organizations have payed their own way,” Boston said. “If they want to improve their facilities ... they ask their members — their supporters to pay for that — not the taxpayer.”

With both Trump’s executive order and the Supreme Court case looming, Boston said his organization is ready to fight to keep the separation between church and state intact.

“If there’s an opportunity to get into court and challenge its provisions, you can bet we’re going to be there,” Boston said.

News Intern Veronica Hall can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org