On Thursday, the National Day of Prayer, President Trump appeared in the Rose Garden alongside social conservatives for a signing ceremony. After being introduced by social conservative champion, Vice-President Mike Pence, the President declared that the “threat against the faith community is over.” After the executive order was signed, however, the debate over its significance began. Leaders on the right and the left are asking if it really means anything or was just a giant photo op.
Trump’s order essentially consists of three sections: section I affirms enforcement of existing Federal religious liberty protections, section II states that the Administration is ordering the Treasury Department not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which has been used as a battering ram to push pastors and pulpits out of political discourse, and section III directs agencies to consider re-issuing Obama-era contraception mandates that has been used to bully businesses and religious charities. While all of these items sound good to conservatives, they are heavy on symbolism and light on substance.
Section I just affirms those laws which are already on the books. That’s still an improvement over the Obama Administration, which essentially trampled religious liberty laws with its employer healthcare mandates and support of discrimination against Christian business owners who did not tow-the-line with the LGBT agenda. Sections II and III are good, but they effectively are a policy proclamation not a policy change. The Johnson Amendment would have to be repealed by Congress, which Congress should do immediately, and section III recommends a “softening of the blow” of the contraceptive mandates, which will be formally overturned when Congress completes is repeal of Obamacare anyway.
I am neither in the camp that loves this executive order, nor am I in the camp that trashes it. The mere issuance of a religious liberty executive order is an improvement over the last 8 years of the Obama Administration, and is a step in the right direction. At the same time, the Trump Administration must view this current order as a starting point, not mission accomplished. Following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision mandating same-sex marriage, Christian business owners have been prosecuted for not participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies. The Cline family out in Oregon lost their business and were fined $150,000 for not baking a wedding cake for a lesbian couple who demanded it. The Trump Administration must protect the right to conscience for millions of Americans who hold deeply held religious convictions on marriage and the family. Religious liberty protections are not a license to discriminate; they are a shield against discrimination for people of faith.
I applaud the Trump Administration for taking a necessary first step toward religious liberty protections with the President’s order last week. As my friend Penny Young Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, stated after the signing ceremony “I think it’s yet to be determined how effective the religious liberty order is, but if it doesn’t work out, you can bet we’ll be right back there asking the administration to go further.” I agree with Penny. This order is the beginning of great things to come for religious freedom in America, not the end of the line.