Some Don’t See Blessing in Trump’s Protecting Religious Liberty

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Some conservatives were less than pleased by President Trump’s May 4 executive order on religious liberty. I guess they didn’t read it very closely. Had they done so, they would have realized that it was a promise of welcome changes to come. It doesn’t declare any new rights, but it does direct the administration to amend regulations and issue guidelines to protect the free exercise of religion from the power of the federal government. After what had seemed like a war on religion under Obama, that’s an enormous sea change.

Still, the executive order didn’t satisfy "Never-Trumpets" such as Princeton’s professor Robert George and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation — who have always been quick to attack the president. They announced that it was "meaningless" and "woefully inadequate."

Shamefully, George pointed the finger at the President’s Jewish daughter and son-in-law, "Ivanka and Jared won. We lost." Such acrimony from a leading Catholic figure, and former Chair of the United States Commission on Religious Liberty, is both unjust and unbecoming.

Now let’s look at the record. President Trump has repeatedly declared his intention to remove the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which dramatically limited the political participation of houses of worship along with their priests, pastors, and rabbis.

As a first step towards that end, the executive order specifically instructs the Department of Treasury "not to take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues. . . . " We can expect Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to make sure that happens.

President Trump's order also contains specific language on the ongoing litigation regarding the impact of Obamacare on Little Sisters of the Poor and other institutions refusing to provide contraceptive healthcare coverage to their employees. Trump ordered the Departments of Treasury, Labor (DOL), and Health and Human Services (HHS) to, "consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive care mandate. . . . " There can be no doubt that HHS Secretary Tom Price will be doing just that — and vigorously.

What is likely the most important section of the executive order is addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law." As head of the Department of Justice, which is still pursuing the case against Little Sisters of the Poor, Sessions has been effectively charged with realizing the promises made in the Rose Garden on May 4.

Given his conservative, pro-life record as an Alabama senator, no one doubts how Jeff Sessions will shape the Department of Justice. Session’s leadership is surely one of the reasons civil rights groups immediately announced their intention to oppose the executive order.

Not surprisingly, a group of atheists, under the banner of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed suit against the president and the IRS, fearing the IRS would "selectively and preferentially discontinue enforcement of the electioneering restrictions of the tax code against churches and religious organizations, while applying a more vigorous enforcement standard to secular nonprofits."

The notion that the IRS would apply more "vigorous" standards to secular nonprofit organizations is of course bizarre. But again, much of the daily media bombardment of the Trump administration contains allegations based upon hearsay, leaks, unnamed sources, and postmodern paranoia. Today the progressive left has bought into the idea that freedom requires that all their opponents be silenced, even when they are exercising their sincere religious beliefs.

Sister Loraine Marie Claire Maguire, Mother Provincial of Little Sisters of the Poor has figured it out. Her statement was forthright and unqualified, "Today's action by the government confirms that the government never needed to create this false conflict between women and religion." One can imagine a smile coming to her face when she added, "The government never needed the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide these services," that is, hand out contraception.

President Trump has been accused of making a media event out of his statement on religious liberty.

These critics should be asked: What is wrong with the president of the United States calling two of the Little Sisters of the Poor to the podium in the Rose Garden? How often have we seen a religious order of the Catholic Church featured in a nationally televised White House ceremony?

The image of President Trump, with a beaming Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. standing behind, welcoming the two sisters is a powerful affirmation to the nation’s 70 million Catholic citizens that they’re fully members of the American community.

You’ve have thought that that was pretty obvious. But apparently some people needed reminding.

Dr. Deal W. Hudson took over Crisis Magazine in 1995, leaving in 2010 to become president of Catholic Advocate. While at Crisis, Hudson led the Catholic voter outreach for President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and later advised the campaigns of both John McCain and Donald Trump on Catholic outreach. In 2014, he began his weekly two-hour radio show, "Church and Culture," on the Ave Maria Radio Network, and launched www.thechristianreview.com in 2015. His books include "Happiness and the Limits of Satisfaction" and "Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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