On Friday, I told you about the ACLU’s “big yawn” reaction to President Trump’s executive order on religious liberties.
They called it “an elaborate photo-op.”
Seriously, when the ACLU passes up the chance to sue a Republican, they have to be feeling particularly unthreatened.
With a couple of days to digest the text, it seems some conservatives who had counted on a more substantial move in favor of religious freedom are decidedly underwhelmed, as well.
First, the bluster:
At a Rose Garden ceremony Thursday, Trump declared that the “threat against the faith community is over.”
“It was looking like you’d never get here folks, but you got here,” Trump told the dozens of faith leaders the White House invited to the ceremony, which took place on National Prayer Day.
Big words from a man who isn’t known for his intellectual heft, or his religious fervor.
Some of the key issues faith leaders were hoping to see happen just weren’t met in this executive order.
Namely, rolling back the contraceptive mandates for employers, or allowing for religious exceptions to certain services.
The three points covered in Trump’s executive order were reportedly a vast cutback in what it was originally intended to cover, with the cuts rumored to be at the advice of senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
The mayonnaise order was more an excuse to get the cameras working than to make any real tweaks to the status quo of religious liberties.
Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Ryan Anderson called the order “woefully inadequate” in an op-ed for The Hill.
The Christian nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom released a statement describing the order as “disappointingly vague” and said it leaves Trump’s campaign promises “unfulfilled.”
And my favorite:
And writing in the National Review, David French, who briefly mulled an independent general election bid for conservatives disenchanted with Trump, called the order “constitutionally dubious, dangerously misleading, and ultimately harmful to the very cause that it purports to protect.”
“He should tear it up, not start over, and do the actual real statutory and regulatory work that truly protects religious liberty,” French said.
Of course, those who carried water for Trump during the run up to the election, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and Faith and Freedom Coalition chairman Ralph Reed, are still making excuses. They framed this watered-down version of a religious freedom executive order as a starting point for the bigger orders to come.
Then why make such a big show out of it?
Well, Trump. That’s why. Smoke and mirrors, the big, reality TV reveal… those are his purview.
To the actual points of the executive order, however, conservatives are pointing out that the emperor really is buck naked.
“The first component simply reiterates what already exists — the federal government should be honoring and enforcing our religious liberty laws anyway,” said Williams, the Heritage policy analyst.
And the portion that addresses the Johnson Amendment?
It simply instructs the IRS to ignore the key parts of what makes the Johnson Amendment the boogeyman politicians that want to use church pulpits as campaign platforms always conjure up in the minds of Christian voters.
Because the IRS has been so trustworthy in dealing with conservatives in the past, we should trust their discretion in dealing with these issues, right?
I know. Stop laughing.
So what happens if churches take this executive order to heart and decide to dive into the upcoming election years, throwing their support behind certain candidates and trading holiness for worldly fixes?
Well, if you ignore the immediate danger of breaking up churches because not every member of the congregation is going to agree, and all the conflict that invades God’s house by making it just another worldly institution, then there’s the legal trouble that arises from a vague suggestion taken as legal or judicial certainty.
In other words, what happens if Democrats win?
“The answer to the Johnson Amendment… is to either repeal the statute or overturn it in court,” French wrote. “This order does neither…. a later administration can tear up Trump’s order and begin vigorous enforcement based on actions undertaken during the Trump administration…Thinking they were protected, churches would find themselves in the worst of predicaments, with their rights and possibly even existences dependent on the capricious mercies of the federal courts.”
In other words, don’t buy the hype.
Reed, the leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, acknowledged the order does not represent “full statutory repeal” of the Johnson Amendment, but called Thursday’s order “a giant step in the right direction.”
Keep leading people down that primrose path, Reed.
Then there’s the contraception mandate.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been told to put forth guidance to interpret federal law, as it pertains to religious liberties and the contraception mandate, but is that enough?
But conservatives say that the Supreme Court has already begun that process by ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in a lawsuit against Health and Human Services. Trump’s executive order keeps the contraception mandate on the books, while legal complaints filed by scores of other institutions remain tied up in the courts.
“A pledge to ‘provide regulatory relief’ is disappointingly vague, especially given the long existence of an obvious means of solving the problem: crafting an exemption that protects all those who sincerely object on religious and moral grounds so that they can continue to serve their communities and the most vulnerable among them,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor said.
President of Concerned Women for America (an organization I cut off after their full-throated support of Trump), Penny Nance, has suggested that Trump’s stance on abortion has earned him a pass for punting other religious liberty items, with this vague, inconsequential executive order.
“He has met and exceeded expectations and followed through on every campaign promise he made to pro-life community,” Nance said. “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.”
We’ll see, but for now, not everyone is so quick to accept everything Trump says and does as a fulfillment of his promises, and people of faith who were counting on this new executive order to unchain them may need to hold off before launching their “Re-elect Trump” bake sales.