May 11, 2017
It's been less than a week since President Trump signed an executive order saying his administration would protect and promote religious freedom. And now, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue -- who was at the Rose Garden signing of the order last Thursday -- is doing his part to make that promise possible. In a policy statement sent to all Department of Agriculture employees, Perdue promised a new day for religious freedom.
"Today, I want to reestablish this Department's commitment to safeguarding every American's First Amendment rights, particularly the right to free speech and the right to free religious exercise. USDA is committed to protecting both. I expect each and every USDA employee to uphold their fellow Americans' First Amendment freedoms. Whether we are inspecting private businesses for compliance with food safety laws or protecting our public land or protecting public land for recreation, cultivation, and preservation, we must set the standard for our nation's highest ideals. Doing so is not optional, and it is not discretionary: It is one of the reasons we exist."
For Christians, who've lived under the anti-faith cloud of Obama, it's encouraging to see Secretary Perdue move so quickly to communicate that the USDA is under new management. After all, it was the USDA that was responsible for one of the more egregious cases of government-sponsored religious hostility. Don Vander Boon, owner of West Michigan Beef Company, was threatened by inspectors to shut him down -- not because of the meat he was processing, but because they had a beef with the conservative materials on the break room table. That case is yet to be resolved, but hopefully, Perdue's unequivocal statement will lead to unequivocal actions to protect and preserve religious freedom.
And with any luck, actions like Secretary Perdue's will make believers out of all the naysayers who said the president's order didn't go far enough. As we said at the time, the real impact of this decision is at the cabinet level, where leaders can put real teeth to the president's words. That's when the influence of conservative stalwarts like Sonny Perdue or Secretary Tom Price of HHS, who are both taking meaningful strides to act, will be felt. In fact, this is exactly what I discussed with the vice president and other White House officials when the conversation about these protections first came up.
While some on the Right don't seem to understand the order's potential, liberals certainly do. Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times tried to sound the alarm over the indifference to the religious liberty E.O. in an interesting op-ed this week. "What really has me worried," she writes, "is the tepid response from the mainstream..." She insists Trump's move is far from an "empty symbolic measure" as some have claimed. Why? Because of the people tasked with implementing it! "As Emily Bazelon noted in The Times last week, the Department of Health and Human Services 'is getting an anti-abortion makeover.' The department is headed by a strongly anti-abortion former congressman, Tom Price. Charmaine Yoest, former head of Americans United for Life, the intellectual powerhouse of the anti-abortion movement, is an assistant secretary and Teresa Manning, a former lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee, is in line to be a deputy assistant secretary."
Then, pointing to the most significant changes, entrusted to the Justice Department, Greenhouse points out, "There's [also] the section of the order labeled 'religious liberty guidance,' directing the attorney general to 'issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law." That would be Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has worn his religion on his sleeve throughout his public career."
Of course, the majority of Americans don't think that protecting the First Amendment is even close to outrageous -- but the fact that liberals do proves why this order is necessary! We couldn't be happier that Secretary Perdue took the president's words to heart and set to work righting the wrongs done to businesses like the Vander Boon's. If the rest of the movement isn't satisfied, I refer them to the White House's Kellyanne Conway, who said: "If they're disappointed, then they're not paying attention."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.