The DOJ under Trump is standing up for religious freedom

The DOJ under Trump is standing up for religious freedom

In a refreshing change of course from the prior administration’s uneasy relationship with matters of religious liberty, the Trump administration has delivered a consistent and staunch defense of conscience rights. The latest example is a religious liberty task force, the purpose of which is to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has all the enforcement power it needs to fully implement last October’s guidance to federal agencies on matters of religious freedom.

Americans of faith, troubled as they are by a growing hostility to religion in the country, are hailing the move. They worry about their ability to participate freely in the public square as they watch faith-based adoption agencies shut down for refusing to place children with same-sex couples, Catholic hospitals sued for declining to perform abortions, and nuns made to pay for abortifacients.  The new task force will be dedicated to fighting a growing type of discrimination:  discrimination against Americans of faith. The last few years are full of examples of this type of bigotry.

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In Missouri, a state program that provided funds for playground surface materials excluded a Christian preschool simply for being Christian. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. was not allowed to advertise a peaceful Christmas message on D.C. Metro buses, and the state of Washington sued a Christian florist who refused to make custom arrangements for a same-sex wedding. In California, the state passed a law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion, and a Colorado baker was hounded all the way to the Supreme Court for his religious objection to creating a cake for a same sex wedding.

 

In sharp contrast to the Obama administration, which actively tried to pare down the free exercise of religion to a narrowly defined “freedom of worship,” the Trump administration’s DOJ has gone to bat for the faithful. Notably, the DOJ filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Colorado baker who won his case when the Supreme Court found that the baker had been the target of religious intolerance by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The DOJ also filed a brief on behalf of parents whose children were barred from a private school scholarship program because they attended a Christian school. The DOJ leapt to the defense of the D.C. Catholic Archdiocese when the Metropolitan Transit Authority barred ads for the Archdiocese “Find the Perfect Gift” Christmas ad campaign.

What has changed at the DOJ under Trump is something quite basic, but with enormous implications. The DOJ is putting the conscience rights enshrined in the First Amendment first, where they belong. The DOJ understands that faith is a personal experience that brings the believer joy and fulfillment, but also that it is an invaluable cultural asset, enhancing and benefiting the whole of society.

The Catholic Church, for example, is a crucial part of America’s safety net, through their many charities, programs, hospitals, schools, and voluntary parochial associations across the country. America is a stronger and better nation because Americans are impelled by their various faiths to feed the poor, welcome the orphan, house the homeless, and comfort the sick. The DOJ also understands that our country shines in a dark world for its foundational commitment to the right of each man and woman not only to believe, but to freely exercise their beliefs in the public square without being unduly burdened or discriminated against. It’s a point of pride for Americans, and a source of envy for other countries mired in oppression and religious violence.

Thanks to the DOJ, things are looking up for religious Americans. Actually, things are looking up for all Americans.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, a group dedicated to being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square.