Mr. President: Don’t Cave to Liberal Fearmongering. Protect Religious Freedom.
Liberals are up in arms over a possible executive order from President Donald Trump protecting religious freedom.
A draft copy of the executive order was leaked to LGBT groups and liberal media outlets in an attempt to prevent the president from issuing it.
But the president should not cave. He should stand up to the liberal outrage and hostility to ordinary American values that fueled his rise in the first place.
The executive order is good, lawful public policy. And it makes good on several promises then-candidate Trump made to his supporters.
Indeed, just this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump pledged, “My administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty.” This executive order is the place to start.
Here are some of the things the religious freedom executive order would do:
- It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times — that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
- It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
- It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- It instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
- It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
- It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
- It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.
- It instructs the secretary of the treasury to ensure that it does not revoke nonprofit tax status because a religious organization’s ordinary religious speech deals with politics, or because it speaks or acts on the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife, that a person’s sex is based on immutable biology, or that life begins at conception.
- It instructs all agencies of the federal government to refuse to recognize any decision by a federally recognized accrediting body that revokes or denies accreditation to an organization because of such beliefs.
- It instructs all agencies that they may not take adverse action against federal employees, contractors, or grantees because of their speech about marriage outside of their employment, contract, or grant, and that agencies shall reasonably accommodate such beliefs inside of employment, contract, or grant.
This executive order is good policy and entirely lawful. The president has the legal authority to instruct agencies of the federal government to respect the religious liberty rights of all Americans where it can.
And to avoid any potential conflicts, the executive order explicitly states that it “shall be carried out … to the extent permitted by law” and that any accommodation must be “reasonable.”
With those two clauses alone, the hyperventilating criticisms of the LGBT left are immediately rendered void.
But liberals shouldn’t be concerned in the first place.
Opponents to the executive order misrepresent the order by claiming it would repeal an Obama-era executive order elevating LGBT status to a protected class in federal contracts.
As bad and unnecessary as President Barack Obama’s order was, this new order does not repeal it.
Rather, it protects the religious liberty rights of all Americans in very tailored ways that address problems of today.
It ensures that the government will not discriminate against beliefs that are under assault, and protects religious organizations’ right to maintain their mission and identity in their staffing decisions and programming, while not losing the ability to partner with the government.
The executive order also provides specific protections to undo some of the worst of liberal overreach.
It finally and fully protects Americans from having to violate their consciences under the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate. It protects the ability of all Americans to buy health care that doesn’t cover or subsidize abortion.
And it protects all Americans who believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife from federal government penalties or coercion.
These protections take nothing away from anyone — they simply ensure that the public square remains open to all religious voices, even when those voices diverge from the government’s view on contested questions. They protect diversity and pluralism and tolerance.
None of this should be objectionable — which makes you wonder why liberals are objecting, except to continue the denunciation of “deplorables” that offended Americans of good will last year.
Trump promised while on the campaign trail that he would defend religious freedom. Now is the time to make good on that promise.
Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty as the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He also focuses on justice and moral principles in economic thought, health care and education, and has expertise in bioethics and natural law theory. He’s the author of the just-released book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Liberty.” Read his research. @RyanTAnd.
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