Conservatives and religious groups are calling on President Donald Trump to stand firm on a draft executive order asserting the federal government recognize religious freedom as not only the right to worship but the right to express one’s religion.
The draft of the executive order, reportedly called “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” tells federal agencies to accommodate religious practices “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” would no longer require religious employers such as Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their beliefs by providing contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to employees, and prohibits penalizing employees because of personal religious views.
But after the draft leaked, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC News on Wednesday, “We do not have plans to sign anything at this time but will let you know when we have any updates.”
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, wrote:
Let’s make it clear to President Trump: you were not elected by gay activists, you were elected by people of faith (81 percent support among evangelicals and 52 percent among Catholics). Do not throw people of faith under the bus in order to curry favor with LGBT groups and the leftist media …
President Trump seems focused on fixing the so-called Johnson Amendment that prevents pastors from endorsing candidates and preaching about partisan politics. That’s fine as far as it goes, but this is a much smaller concern than protecting actual religious liberty and preventing people from being discriminated against by the government simply because they are pro-marriage, pro-life and live out biblical principles in their daily lives. The Johnson Amendment has never been enforced, not even by President [Barack] Obama who was openly hostile to religious conservatives and is far less of a priority.
Gregory S. Baylor, the senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty legal group, strongly backs the draft order, noting that during the 2016 president campaign, Trump said that the “first priority of my administration will be to preserve and protect our religious liberty.”
The president appears to be following through on that promise so that all Americans can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms without fear of being maligned and discriminated against by the cultural and political elites. The executive order being discussed simply reaffirms the American commitment to the First Amendment and requires the government to respect its legal and constitutional obligation to ensure that Americans are free to peacefully live and work consistent with their beliefs without being punished by the government.
Trump reiterated support for religious freedom during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
“I want to express clearly today to the American people that my administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in our land,” Trump said. “America must forever remain a tolerant society where all faiths are respected, and where all of our citizens can feel safe and secure. We have to feel safe and secure.”
In a commentary earlier this week on The Daily Signal, Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, called for Trump not to give into “fearmongering” from the left. He wrote:
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.
In a statement Friday, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said:
It properly recognizes that religion should not be confined to a home or house of worship alone, but to ‘all activities of life,’ such as those that involve social services, education, health care, employment, obtaining ‘grants or contracts,’ or otherwise participating in the ‘public square.’ Religious expression has every right to exist in the public square as do other forms of expression … The free exercise of religion has suffered greatly under the policies and orders of President Obama. I am confident that the Trump administration will protect this first and most fundamental freedom.