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Trump's Vision: Uniting 'Under One God' Vs. Religious Freedom


There's a line that's been coming up in Donald Trump's stump speeches over the past couple of weeks.


DONALD TRUMP: We will be one people under one god...

One people under one god...

Under one god, saluting one American flag, one American flag.

SIMON: And that's the Republican presidential nominee campaigning this month in Pennsylvania, Iowa and North Carolina. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following the Trump campaign and has a closer look at this new line.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Donald Trump often promises to make America great and safe, strong and prosperous. Lately, the candidate who's been accused of being divisive throughout his campaign has been adding another aspiration for the country.


TRUMP: This is my promise to all of you. Starting in 2017, we will be one American nation.

MCCAMMON: That was Trump last week at the Values Voter Summit, a gathering of conservative Christians in Washington, D.C. He quoted the Bible and repeated the line, spelling out all the ways he wants Americans to be one.


TRUMP: Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one god saluting one flag.

MCCAMMON: But it's one god that's catching the ear of some groups who say the phrase is at odds with the American promise of religious freedom. It's not clear what Trump means by it. His campaign hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment, but it worries Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

BARRY LYNN: What I hear is someone who simply doesn't understand that one of the great strengths of this country is the diversity of nationalities, of origins, the differences of opinion about religion and ideas about religion.

MCCAMMON: It's also troubling to some religious groups. Corey Saylor is a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization that's been critical of Trump's rhetoric on minority groups, including Muslims.

COREY SAYLOR: So when you get a phrase like the one he's using now, it adds to this overall ominous tone that America is going to become about certain types of people first and everybody else maybe not so much part of the American pie anymore.

MCCAMMON: But Penny Nance of the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America hears Trump differently.

PENNY YOUNG NANCE: What we hear is a call for unity, a call for really understanding that we are a nation under God. And although as Americans we may experience that differently, we see this as essential to our success as individuals and as a people.

MCCAMMON: Nance says Trump was validating a sense among many people of faith of being disrespected by what she describes as the elites. For Saylor, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Trump's rhetoric should also concern people who believe in God and in religious freedom.

SAYLOR: One god immediately excludes Hindus, Atheists, Native Americans, whole swathes of people who have a right to be part of the American identity. And under what we've established in this country, the notion that you can have multiple faiths and all still share the same ideal of being American, the campaign is once again just really lopping off support from minorities.

MCCAMMON: Minorities who Trump has been struggling to reach and who could be critical to the outcome of the November election. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.