Advances in Religious Freedom Under Trump vs. Biden’s War on Faith: An NFAB Analysis
When Donald Trump was sworn in as president, many of us were doubtful that he would keep the promises he made to the religious community during his campaign. We had heard similar promises before by many elected officials who only made those promises to garner our votes. But they left us abandoned and disillusioned. Trump was a political outsider and a man of action. So we held hope that he might be different.
Not only were we not disappointed, we were very often amazed. No president in recent memory had given such continual, personal access to the faith community, particularly Evangelical Christians. His meetings were not merely photo ops with one of his largest voting blocs. He genuinely listened to the concerns of faith leaders. And more importantly, championed our causes.
Two Very Different Administrations
Seeking to fulfill his promises, President Trump asked his friend Pastor Paula White-Cain to assemble a “unique coalition of faith leaders” to advise him. The goal of this National Faith Advisory Board was (and is) to provide counsel on issues of religious freedom at home and abroad. With their input, the president fought diligently for religious freedom. The accomplishments made under his administration are truly staggering.
In stark, mournful contrast, the current administration appears to have launched an all-out assault on religious freedom. On day one, President Biden began rolling back many of the previous administration’s accomplishments. The anti-religious fervor of secular progressives in recent decades is quickly becoming enshrined in all political institutions. Unless curtailed soon, this administration will render the First Amendment meaningless.
The Depth of the Contrast
At a recent meeting of NFAB leaders, they handed out two documents. The first was a comprehensive list of actions undertaken by the previous administration to expand and protect religious liberty. The second was a list of the attacks on religious freedom undertaken (so far) by the current administration. We are grateful to the NFAB for allowing us to re-publish these pieces in full here at The Stream. (We are also excited to see the NFAB continue its excellent work.)
The documents are quite long, so we have highlighted a few of the more salient points below. We encourage you, though, to read them in full to get a much better scope of the contrast. See part one here and part two here. When you see the extent of the second document, especially, you will understand how critical this moment in history is to the future of our nation.
Finally, other Stream authors will continue this series here, each looking at different aspects of the current assault on religious liberty.
Department of the Treasury
President Trump signed the Executive Order, Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.
- It ensured that the Department of Treasury would not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization that speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective (May 2017).
- The Executive Order chipped away at the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code which restricts non-profit organizations, including churches, from expressing their free speech.
- It also established the policy of the executive branch “to vigorously enforce the Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom”.
Department of Justice
Under President Trump’s leadership, The Department of Justice vigorously defended religious liberty in the courts at every opportunity by submitting amicus briefs in support of:
- Colorado baker Jack Phillip’s right to operate his bakery in accordance with his religious beliefs.
- Students declared ineligible for a scholarship because they attended a religious school.
- The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington’s effort to buy ads on public transportation for its “Find the Perfect Gift” Christmas charitable campaign.
Department of Health and Human Services
Under the Trump Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services published two final rules to provide protections for Americans with religious beliefs or moral convictions in the context of health services (November 2018).
- The first rule provided an exemption from Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.
- The second rule provided protection to nonprofits organizations, small businesses, and individuals that have non-religious moral convictions opposing services covered by the mandate.
International Religious Liberty
President Trump signed the Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom that prioritized religious freedom and ensures the advancement of religious liberty as a core tenet of American diplomacy (June 2020).
- Under the Executive Order, the United States would prioritize religious freedom in foreign aid programs and use other economic tools to help advance these goals.
- The Executive Order directed U.S. Ambassadors and Foreign Service Officers to promote, defend, and support religious freedom.
- The Administration established a “Special Watch List” and economic tools to combat countries that have engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom.
- Since its signing, U.S. foreign assistance provided over $400 million for activities that support religious and ethnic minorities across the Middle East region. (July 2020)
Shortly after taking office, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, ensuring that taxpayer money is not used to fund abortion globally (January 2017). The State Department took additional action, by no longer providing global health funding to foreign groups that financially support other organizations that provide or promote abortions. But the president went further:
- President Trump ended HHS funding for new medical research using human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions, unless authorized by an ethics advisory board (June 2019).
- President Trump ended taxpayer funding for the U.N. Population Fund, in response to UNFPA’s role in supporting programs such as coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization (April 2017).
Read the full document here.
The “Equality” Act
- Biden and Progressives in Congress have tried to ram through the so-called “Equality Act,” which would be detrimental to faith-based institutions. Thankfully they haven’t been successful (yet).
- If enacted, it which would redefine sex to include “gender identity” and force every federally funded entity (such as schools and universities) to treat males who declare transgender status as if they were females. (February 2021)
- In a radical move, the bill doesn’t include religious exemptions and it even goes so far as to block the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from applying to its provisions.
- As a reminder of how much Democrats have shifted on this issue: Former President Clinton signed RFRA into law in 1993.
Department of Health and Human Services
- An internal HHS memo showing plans to strip Trump-era religious freedom protections was leaked. The memo outlines the Biden Administration’s disapproval of how the Trump-Administration empowered the Office of Civil Rights to take a proactive approach in protecting religious liberties. (November 2021)
- The document encourages the HHS Secretary to strip authority away from the Office of Civil Rights to enforce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — which would essentially leave faith communities more vulnerable and without needed protections.
Religious Freedom in Foreign Policy
- Secretary of State Blinken abandoned the findings of the Trump administration’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which highlighted the importance of religious freedom, enumerated in America’s founding documents and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (March 2021)
Funding Abortions With Your Tax Dollars
- The Trump Administration instituted a rule in 2018 that blocked federal funding (your tax dollars) for family planning clinics that refer patients for abortion. This was a huge win for pro-life advocates, taxpayers, and most importantly, the unborn.
- However, soon after getting sworn in, Biden’s HHS started the process of rescinding this policy. And in November 2021, to the detriment of thousands of unborn kids, they finalized the reversal.
- This means more of your tax dollars could go towards funding abortion providers and other clinics who provide referrals for abortion, through what’s known as the “Title X” family planning program.
Repealed Pro-Life Mexico City Policy
- If taxpayer funded abortion wasn’t bad enough here in the United States, one of Biden’s first actions in office was reopening taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas.
- He did this by putting an end to the “Mexico City Policy” — a policy first announced in 1984 by President Reagan that says foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must certify that they will not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning” using funds from any source (including non-U.S. funds) as a condition of receiving U.S. government global family planning funding.
- President Trump had reinstated this pro-life policy during his first few days in office in 2017. Unfortunately, Biden reversed this Trump-era policy, as well.
Radical Education Agenda
- Biden rescinded the Trump administration’s Executive Order establishing the 1776 Commission, which promoted patriotic education and prohibited critical race theory training for federal agencies and federal contractors. (January 2021)
- The Biden Administration nominated Kiran Ahuja, who embraces CRT, to lead the Office of Personnel Management. (June 2021)
- The Education Department proposed a rule that would give priority for federal civics education grants to institutions that prioritize CRT. (April 2021)
- In their first few days in office, Biden signed an Executive Order titled, “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” which directed the Education Department to draft regulations giving any school that receives federal funding — including nearly every public high school — an ultimatum: allow biological boys who self-identify as girls onto girls’ sports teams or face punishment from the federal government. (January 2021).
- Xavier Becerra, Biden’s HHS Secretary, has long had disdain towards the faith community. The Wall Street Journal editorial page explained it this way last year before his Senate confirmation: “Becerra’s problem is his record as a culture warrior as California attorney general — in particular, a disregard, even disdain, for First Amendment protections of speech and religious liberty.”
Read the full document here.
John Melton is the Editor-in-Chief of The Stream. He has worked for LIFE Outreach International, The Stream’s parent organization, for more than 16 years. He has a background in theology, philosophy, and music. Most of his professional career has been spent in non-profit administration, marketing and event planning.