Trump should move forward on religious liberty order

Two weeks ago, a draft executive order intended to protect religious made headlines. If issued, it would be one of the most courageous actions undertaken by this White House to date. 

While no decision has been made, the executive order apparently remains under consideration. It would have a profoundly important policy impact, immediately push back against the professional political bullies who have made careers out of harassing and intimidating people of faith across the country. It would also smooth congressional action on the much maligned and frequently contentious appropriations process.

{mosads}First, on the policy.


Some of the more important functions of the order include: providing relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor who were unfairly and unlawfully targeted by the ObamaCare abortifacient mandate, ensuring the federal government follows laws and court rulings respecting the free exercise of religion for all, telling federal agencies to make accommodations that within reason respect the religious liberty and beliefs of federal workers, instructing the Health and Human Services Department to ensure Americans can purchase health care plans that do not cover abortions and providing protections for religious educational institutions who are under threat of losing their accreditations. 

In short, the order is a much-needed readjustment with respect to the federal government’s position on matters of religious liberty. 

President Trump’s political opponents have badly misrepresented what the executive order actually does in order to pressure him not to sign it. Trump should resist this pressure and issue the order because doing so is in sync with the promises that he made on the campaign trail–promises that resulted in winning 81 percent of evangelicals and flipping the Catholic vote–because he is uniquely suited to lead the effort.

During the campaign, Trump was clear that he would advocate for religious people who were unduly burdened by an overreaching federal government: “If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths. The Little Sisters of the Poor, or any religious order for that matter, will always have their religious liberty protected on my watch and will not have to face bullying from the government because of their religious beliefs.” And as president he promised his administration “will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty.”

Trump has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, which would codify portions of the draft executive order. FADA is certainly something that Congress should pass. But if the president truly wants Congress to pass this law he should lead the way by issuing his executive order. Courage breeds courage. And this is an issue that will require a lot of it. 

The political left is winning this debate by focusing on strategic fights at the state level. Their playbook has been to identify states that deviate from the politically correct progressive position and to wage scorched earth political campaigns in those states. The left have isolated Republican governors and legislators and have joined with their cronyist allies in Big Business to threaten, intimidate and bully those governors and legislatures until they get their way. 

The best way to fight back against this is to nationalize the public debate. The left cannot boycott the entire country and they know that. So Trump can begin the nationalizing of the debate by issuing his executive order. Doing so sends the signal to Republicans in Congress and in state capitals across the country that he will courageously stand by them and he will stand up to the bullies. He can do this because he has the mandate to do it. 

Enacting the executive order will have an added benefit for the Trump administration’s congressional agenda as well. Without a strong executive order in place to protect religious liberty, proponents of FADA are certain to pursue a legislative rider strategy on all relevant appropriations bills going through Congress. 

We saw last year how this issue derailed the appropriations process, and some on the Hill have indicated an executive order that actually secures space for religious liberty to exist would result in a smoother appropriations process in 2017. 

The executive order would give a badly needed four year reprieve to faith-based organizations and individuals across the country, and give courage and momentum to members of Congress who desire to codify these protections permanently into law by passing the First Amendment Defense Act and other religious liberty legislation. And it would allow Trump to fulfill his campaign promise to the American people.

Tim Chapman is the chief operating officer of Heritage Action for America, an advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump ObamaCare religious liberty Tim Chapman

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