Trump Protects Religious Liberty
President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty has garnered a mixed reaction, with the left moaning about violations of the separation of church and state and some of the right saying it is watered down meaningless rhetoric to placate his religious base, As Ryan T. Anderson at the Daily Signal opines:
In reality, what Trump issued today is rather weak. All it includes is general language about the importance of religious liberty, saying the executive branch “will honor and enforce” existing laws and instructing the Department of Justice to “issue guidance” on existing law; directives to the Department of the Treasury to be lenient in the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment; and directives to the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (HHS) to “consider issuing amended regulations” to “address conscience-based objections” to the HHS contraception mandate.
In reality, what Trump issued is more significant than appears on the surface. It ends the official hostility of government to all things religious that was part of the Obama administration’s “fundamental transformation of America.” This is no small thing, and means that the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor will not be dragged into court to fight for the religious liberty the Constitution guarantees them. Modifying regulations to honor religious conscience is significant, as is the directive not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which forbids priests and pastors from disagreeing from the pulpit with government encroachment of our liberties. This is significant and, until the Johnson Amendment, is repealed will do quite nicely.
Critics like Anderson seem to ignore Trump’s placing of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch, as Lifesite News reported, was a staunch defender of the religious liberty rights in the cases of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor:
Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor. Their names were synonymous with major Supreme Court battles to stop the Obama Administration from forcing them and others to pay for drugs that cause abortions.
And when it came to their religious freedom to opt out of Obama’s abortion agenda, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch agreed.
In a significant ruling in a major landmark case, Gorsuch outlined a broad definition of religious freedom that could point to how he would rule in similar cases regarding abortion if confirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Hobby Lobby and the Court ruled that companies like it can be exempt from the Obama abortion mandate. Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in 2013, writing, “The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.”
He also argued in his own separate opinion that the individual owners and directors also had valid religious freedom claims….
Gorsuch also sided with the Little Sisters of the Poor, defending the rights of nuns not to be forced to pay for abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.
A Supreme Court with an originalist interpretation of the Constitution is key. What follows is gravy. Trump has not, as some claim, betrayed his religious base and his campaign promises to them. In fact, as the Washington Post reports, actual repeal of the Johnson Amendment is being considered as part of the upcoming tax reform package:
As Republicans struggle to craft a sweeping tax package -- a process already rife with political land mines -- they are preparing to add another volatile element to the mix: a provision that would end a six-decade-old ban on churches and other tax-exempt organizations supporting political candidates.
The repeal of the “Johnson Amendment” is being written into tax legislation developed in the House of Representatives, according to aides. President Trump has vowed to “totally destroy” the provision at the behest of evangelical Christians who helped elect him.
The inclusion of the repeal in broader tax legislation could bolster its chances. A stand-alone bill would almost certainly face a filibuster in the Senate, where opponents fear the measure would effectively turn churches into super PACs.
Conservatives have a way of making the perfect the enemy of the good and raining on their own parade. It may not be a touchdown, but it is a first down, and we get to keep the ball and continue to move it downfield. Religious leaders present at the ceremony recognize this:
Religious freedom advocates credited President Donald Trump with taking a “first step” toward protecting religious freedom with an executive order he signed on Thursday, but stressed that there is still more work to be done.
“I thought the executive order was a great step forward,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. told CNA. “[Trump] himself says this is the first step. But it’s the beginning, and we’ve waited a long time for it.”…
Congressional action is required to formally repeal the law, but the executive order is an important move in ensuring that religious entities can weigh in on political issues without losing their tax-exempt status.
Attending the signing of the executive order were the Little Sisters of the Poor, plaintiffs in one of the HHS mandates case against the federal government. Trump honored two of the sisters who were present in the Rose Garden, calling them “incredible nuns who care for the sick, the elderly, and the forgotten.”
“I want you to know that your long ordeal will soon be over,” he told the sisters of their years-long HHS mandate case, and saying that his order would protect them and other religious organizations from the mandate.
Rescinding the individual mandate and repeal of ObamaCare’s war on religious conscience is no small thing either. The struggle between religious liberty and government suppression through ObamaCare was the subject of a 2012 Investor’s Business Daily editorial on the VP debate between Catholics Joe Biden and Paul Ryan:
As we noted in our post-debate analysis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) were not amused with Joe Biden's other great debate lie -- that ObamaCare doesn't threaten religious liberty or the ability of churches, particularly the Catholic Church, to put their faith in action.
On Oct. 12, the USCCB denounced the VP's deceptive comments, noting that the so-called HHS exemption is a farce that unconstitutionally defines what a religious institution is and what government will allow it to do.
That exemption, the USCCB states, "does not extend to 'Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital' (as Biden claimed), or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served."
In other words, Joe Biden, a Catholic himself, lied.
As Paul Ryan, also a Catholic, put it to Biden, the Obama administration was "infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals." …
As Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, recently said on "Fox News Sunday," they object to what they consider the unprecedented attempt by the Obama administration to define what a church and religious institution is -- the notion that you're a church if the government, in Soviet fashion, says you're a church.
"Embedded in the mandate is a radically new definition of what constitutes a religious community, what constitutes religious ministry," Cardinal Wuerl said. "Brand new, never before applied at the federal level. That's what we're arguing about."
As the late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, former head of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, once observed, President Obama’s idea of religious liberty differed little from Joseph Stalin’s:
Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union," Chicago's Francis Cardinal George recently wrote.
"You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship -- no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society."
President Trump believes otherwise and his executive order is a decisive step forward in protecting religious liberty. No longer will the federal government be allowed to strip away the religious conscience of a group of feisty nuns who seek merely to comfort the sick, dying, and the elderly in order to push contraceptives on the unwilling.
Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.