Trump's Liberty Speech Reveals Religion's Role In His Politics

by Lani Seelinger
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Donald Trump gave his first commencement speech today, at Liberty University. Given the religious nature of the school, it's no surprise that there are a number of quotes from Trump's Liberty commencement speech speaking to faith, and what kind of position he believes that religion should have in America.

Trump is not the first high-ranking Republican politician who has spoken at Liberty University, although he is the first president to have done so since George H.W. Bush in 1990. Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Mitt Romney have also all given commencement addresses at Liberty University, likely in an effort to court Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., who now leads the university, and the evangelical constituency who respects him.

Falwell was an ardent supporter of Trump's throughout the campaign, even through the scandal surrounding Trump's Access Hollywood tapes. This probably came as a surprise to some of Trump's Republican opponents, as Trump hasn't exactly had the best religious credentials. No matter how much he tried to appeal to evangelicals with his words, many have noted how un-Christian Trump's actions are. His statement that he doesn't like to ask for forgiveness was particularly curious, but none of it hurt his position in the eyes of notable evangelical leaders. But Falwell's support appears to have paid off — Trump scored 80 percent of the white evangelical vote. He's since begun to repay that support through things like his religious freedom executive order and his multiple attacks on reproductive rights.

In this speech, then, he did find a bit of time to take a break from thinking about work and instead focus on faith, religion, and what he believes its position should be in American society. Here are some of the quotes on that subject.


On Freedom Of Religion

This quote gives credence to the belief on the religious right that recent steps forward in the country, like enshrining marriage equality into law and including birth control as part of mandatory insurance coverage, have created a situation in which the religious freedom of conservative Christians is being infringed upon.

Most of the rest of the country, however, does not believe that stopping ultra-religious bakersfrom discriminating against gay couples, for example, is actually a check on religious liberty. Trump, with this quote, seems to be siding with the religious right on their complaints, so this is a red flag for anyone who has a different faith, or no faith at all.


On Faith In Action

Many people no doubt do wonderful things in the name of their respective faiths — but Trump also seems to be forgetting about the separation of church and state in the U.S.


On Nation And God

Some do proudly proclaim it, and others debate the necessity of its inclusion in the Pledge of Allegiance. Trump no doubt does not know the history of this particular line; it was only added during the Cold War, as a stand against the atheism of the Soviet Union.


On Spreading The Faith

The thing about religions is that any believer holds that their religion is right — otherwise they wouldn't believe it. In speaking to an audience that is probably exclusively Christian, Trump seems to be picking sides pretty obviously.


On Fighting For Truth

Funny that someone like Trump is calling for students to stand up for truth in any circumstance, but the wording here is distinctively religious, and it's not up to the president to call one religion the truth over another.


On Following Your Convictions

This could be taken in any number of ways, but Trump is no doubt praising the crowd at Liberty University for standing up for their faith in an environment that they feel attacks it.


On Being True To Yourself

This is a fine line, but would he emphasize the part about beliefs if he was in another setting?


On His Choice Of Place

Trump would probably say this no matter where he was, but the choice of his first commencement address definitely carries weight. There are a lot of more academically prestigious universities, which likely wouldn't have invited him at all.

But by going to Liberty University first, Trump is sending a message to the evangelical community that he stands with them — and if we juxtapose that with his actions as president, it's not impossible to glean that he stands with them, perhaps exclusively.


On Who We Worship

Again, Trump is propagating the view that the United States has a religious foundation, and that worshipping God is somehow a condition of being an American. His audience probably appreciated that, as God and patriotism have become very entwined in the past couple of decades. As usual, though, Trump forgets those who worship differently, or who choose not to worship any God at all. But those faith communities probably don't carry so much electoral weight, so Trump has chosen to align himself with this one.

As president, Trump will probably have the opportunity to give many commencement speeches. But his first one at Liberty University made it very clear where he stands on the issue of religion in politics, and what kind of policies he will likely support in the future.