How the White House has Strengthened Religious Liberty

By Decision Editors   •   October 19, 2018

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Olentangy Orange High School in Lewis Center, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The past 22 months have brought significant progress in restoring religious liberty in the United States. But if Christians do not remain engaged, those gains could be brought to a screeching halt or even lost after next month’s midterm elections. If progressives reclaim a majority in Congress, not to mention in state and local governments, believers will once again be open targets for punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society.

Following are some of the recent victories for people of faith under the current administration, which has worked diligently to reverse years of hostile actions under the previous president.

Judicial appointments

The promise: To appoint judges in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Why it’s important: Originalist judges, like Scalia, believe the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted as written and intended by the framers rather than having new interpretations imposed upon it that the framers never would have dreamed of. Liberal, activist judges, on the other hand, have consistently held that their newly invented civil rights supersede the rights of those who may object on religious grounds.

The outcome: Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch is already in place on the U.S. Supreme Court; Judge Brett Kavanaugh is undergoing the confirmation process. In addition, more than 25 Trump nominees have been confirmed to federal courts of appeals—more than any other president in history at this point in their term.

Abortion funding

The promise: To defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

Why it’s important: Christians do not want their tax dollars used for the murder of unborn children.

The outcome: On his first day in office, President Trump signed an executive order reinstating the Mexico City Policy, which stops federal tax dollars from funding organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and others that conduct or promote abortions internationally. This past April, the president signed legislation that enables states to withhold family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. And in May, the administration announced a proposed rule at the Department of Health and Human Services to end Title X family planning funding for entities that perform, support or refer abortions.

Faith in the marketplace

The promise: “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”

Why it’s important: In recent years, religious liberty has been eroded by activist judges and progressives in government. The Obama administration and various state commissions and officials have sought to punish faith-based organizations and Christian-owned businesses for operating according to their beliefs.

The outcome: In May 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the executive branch to respect and protect the freedom of individuals and organizations to “exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the federal government.” In January of this year, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office for Civil Rights, which will work to protect healthcare professionals who do not want to participate in abortion. The Justice Department has filed amicus briefs in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop and others who have suffered discrimination for their religious beliefs. And in July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department’s creation of a task force that will work to protect religious groups from persecution.

International religious freedom

The promise: Protect persecuted religious minorities around the globe.

Why it’s important: Religious minorities—often Christians—suffer persecution in many countries.

The outcome: In February, former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. His office monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide and implements policies to promote religious freedom. Early in President Trump’s term, the United States would begin funding organizations that aid persecuted minorities instead of contributing to “ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations.” In January, USAID announced that it had renegotiated its agreement with the U.N. Development Programme to increase assistance to religious and ethnic minorities in areas of Iraq that have been liberated from ISIS.

Free speech for places of worship

The promise: Revoke the Johnson Amendment.

Why it’s important: Named for Lyndon B. Johnson, the amendment, adopted in 1954, introduced a statute to the tax code that prohibits certain tax-exempt nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing political candidates. Many faith leaders consider the law a violation of free speech, especially since religious values often affect the choice of which candidate will be best for the position.

The outcome: In October 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to the entire executive branch that included direction for the IRS not to enforce the Johnson Amendment against a religious organization differently than from a secular one. Although a congressional repeal of the Johnson Amendment has been removed from several bills over the past year, a repeal remains a priority for the administration; Vice President Mike Pence has stated, “We will not rest until it is repealed off the laws of this country once and for all.”

Faith and Opportunity Initiative

The promise: “Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the federal government.”

Why it’s important: In recent years, such as in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, churches and other religious organizations have been discriminated against, having been denied government funding simply because of their religious nature.

The outcome: In May, President Trump signed an executive order creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, recognizing that “faith-based and community organizations have tremendous ability to serve individuals, families and communities.”

Bringing home those unjustly imprisoned

The promise: To protect American citizens on foreign soil.

Why it’s important: Several foreign regimes have imprisoned American citizens, including pastors and missionaries, on phony charges.

The outcome: In May, following a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, North Korea released three American detainees, businessman Kim Dong-chul, professor Tony Kim and Los Angeles pastor Kim Hak-song. The administration continues to fight hard for the release of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey, hitting the nation with sanctions because of Brunson’s unjust imprisonment.

Support pro-life efforts

The promise: To be advocates for the unborn and their mothers.

Why it’s important: Progressives not only desire abortion on demand for any reason, even up to an hour before birth, but they want taxpayers to pay for them.

The outcome: President Trump has appointed pro-life judges, permitted states to defund Planned Parenthood of Title X funds and cut funding to the pro-abortion U.N. Population Fund. In January, he became the first president to stand in the Rose Garden to address the March for Life, stating that “every life is sacred … every child is a precious gift from God.”

The Capital of Israel

The promise: To finally enact long-standing U.S. law by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Why it’s important: God says in 2 Chronicles 6:6, “I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.” Psalm 122:6 instructs God’s people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

The outcome: On May 14, the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was opened, 70 years to the day after Israel declared its independence. ©2018 BGEA