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What Trump's Religious Freedom Order Does and Where It Falls Short

05-05-2017
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President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON -- Too often government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, President Donald Trump told faith leaders gathered at the White House Thursday to mark the National Day of Prayer.

Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and others gathered in the Rose Garden for a first-of-its-kind kickoff to the National Day of Prayer.

The president marked the occasion by making good on a campaign promise, signing an executive order designed to promote and protect religious liberty.

"We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore," he said to applause from the crowd.

The order does three things:

  • It states that it's the "policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce federal law's robust protections for religious freedom."
  • It essentially orders the IRS to stop enforcing the Johnson Amendment, which forbids churches and other non-profits from supporting and endorsing candidates.
  • And it protects the conscience of employers who don't want to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance plans that Obamacare mandated.

That includes employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor who sued the Obama administration. Several nuns with the order were in the audience and the president asked them to join him on stage.

"Your ordeal is over," he told them.

So Where Does It Fall Short?

Many evangelical leaders who've pushed Trump to sign an executive order call the president's actions an important first step. However, the order is light on details and falls short of what many were expecting. 

According to Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, the first component of the order merely reiterates what's already in place — that is, that the government honor and enforce our religious liberty laws.

Regarding the second component, Anderson notes that language addressing the Johnson Amendment "doesn't concern the most pressing religious liberties facing Americans." 

Finally, he takes exception to the fact that the order merely instructs agencies to "consider" new regulations, noting that the Supreme Court has already "unanimously instructed the federal government to resolve the case of Little Sisters of the Poor and other HHS mandate cases."

Anderson says the ball is now in Congress' court to take legislative action on these issues.

"Congress should give President Trump the opportunity to sign robust religious liberty protections," Anderson writes in The Hill.

Other faith leaders admit they're also disappointed in Trump's executive action.

"I encourage the administration to immediately take concrete steps to ensure that people of faith remain free to live out their faith," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, wrote in a statement.

Likewise, the Alliance Defending Freedom wrote, "We encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion."

Other leaders, however, say the order competently combats the hostility Christians have been facing.

"Quite frankly, I'm not sure there's enough paper in Washington, D.C. to contain all of the attacks that were launched on religious freedom under the Obama administration," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. 

And Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook: "I’m thankful we have a president who is concerned about religious liberty and isn’t afraid to speak the Name of Jesus Christ."

Trump's order was enough to rattle many on the Left. Some say it could lead to discrimination against gays, same-sex couples, and women.

The ACLU threatened to sue the administration, but later announced it had decided against it.

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