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This Week in God, 2.4.17

Does the Trump White House acknowledge that Islam is, in fact, a religion?
The White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The White House.
First up from the God Machine this week is a question posed to a White House official that, under normal circumstances, wouldn't even be asked. TPM noted yesterday:

A senior White House aide refused to confirm that President Donald Trump believes that Islam is a religion in a Friday NPR interview.Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart national security editor who left his post as a Fox New contributor to become a deputy assistant to Trump, first evaded the question and then said he couldn't speak for the President.

The fact that the question would even come up is itself a remarkable turn of events, but as NPR's Steve Inskeep noted on his program, White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn last year described Islam as a "cancer," which "hides behind this notion of being a religion." Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, is on record making equally inflammatory comments about the minority faith.So, does Trump agree with aides like Flynn? Does the president recognize Islam as a religion? When Iskeep posed the question to Gorka, the White House aide focused his answer on the administration combating "radical Islamic terrorism." Inskeep eventually interrupted in the hopes of pinning Gorka down on the question at hand."I think you should ask him that question," the former Breitbart editor replied.The evasive response added some ambiguity to the matter, but even that says something important about Team Trump's perspective. Had the NPR host asked if Christianity or Judaism are religions, it's likely any White House official would answer, "Of course."That Gorka did not offer this same response about one of the planet's largest faith traditions is problematic.Also from the God Machine this week:* This seems unlikely to produce worthwhile policy results: "Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the nation's most prominent evangelical Christian leaders, has been asked to head a White House task force on reforming the U.S. higher education system, the Virginia college told NBC News on Tuesday night."* A tragedy in Pennsylvania: "A Pennsylvania couple was arrested and charged after their two-year-old daughter died from untreated pneumonia.... The couple, who have six other young children, was arrested and charged Wednesday with child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, they could face the maximum possible sentence of 12.5 years in prison."* One third is obviously not a majority, but it's still an alarmingly large number under the circumstances: "About one-third of all Americans think that you have to be a Christian to truly be an American -- despite the history of religious liberty that dates back to the nation's very earliest days."