May 05, 2017
When religious liberty came up in the Obama White House, you can bet the conversation wasn't about how to advance it! After eight years of sustained attacks on faith, Christians got their first taste of life outside the bunker yesterday when President Trump did what seemed unlikely just six weeks ago and issued an executive order protecting our First Freedom. At a Rose Garden ceremony, surrounded by some of victims of Obama's war, the new administration took the first step in what will be a journey to revive America's First Freedom.
After almost a decade of Obama, the president's speech was a victory in itself. It was refreshing for Americans, who've lived under the dark age of hostility and oppression, to be reminded that "We are a nation of believers. Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country... No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith." For once, the White House was using the bully pulpit to put the real bullies in their place. "It is the policy of this administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty," Trump declared. And leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) couldn't be happier. "No American should live in fear of reprisal from the federal government based on what they believe," Goodlatte cheered.
And that includes our service members. In one of the more astonishing moments of the day, a group of news outlets took the Trump administration to task for mentioning the Bible controversy at Walter Reed Medical Hospital. As part of the signing ceremony, the president went through a laundry list of reasons why an executive order was necessary, including the 2011 bombshell that the Navy's medical center was banning religious materials. "The abuses were all over. As just one example, people were forbidden from giving or receiving religious items at a military hospital where our brave service members were being treated, and when they wanted those religious items... These are great soldiers. They wanted those items. They were precluded from getting them." CNN, AP, and the Washington Post must be suffering from selective amnesia because each one insisted that the episode is not how Trump described it.
Actually, it was exactly how he described it. FRC ought to know -- we were the reason the story ever broke! An Army officer, who asked not to be identified, sent us the hospital's memo, stunned that Bibles and other materials were being banned. In it, Navy officials announced that "no religious items (including Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit." Read it for yourself here. After we contacted several Members of Congress, Walter Reed was so overwhelmed with complaints that the Navy rushed to rescind the order. In fact, the whole incident prompted conservatives to push the Pentagon for more explicit religious liberty protections. So the next time, major outlets want to attack Trump's facts, they might be wise to check their own.
To some conservatives, the order stopped short of the change they were hoping for. But to them I would say this: the White House's action was never meant to be the end of the journey -- only the beginning. This was, by design, a multi-step process that starts with the president and fans out to more than a dozen government agencies in charge of everything from medicine to the military. That's an important part of the equation, since many of the people left to implement these guidelines are longtime champions of the movement -- like Secretary Tom Price. The head of Health and Human Services (HHS), who fought for these same conscience protections during his career in Congress, wasted no time when the order came down, vowing "in short order" to "safeguard the deeply-held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees."
For now, the real impact of the order starts at the Justice Department, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions's role will be critical. Breitbart was quick to push back on critics, pointing out that an order like this "could yield major changes in federal policy as it relates to the exercise of religious beliefs." Americans have already seen what the DOJ did to stop Obama's transgender bathroom and shower mandate in schools. The White House is giving them the same latitude here -- not just to protect religious liberty, but promote it.
And while some conservatives may not understand the magnitude of the order now, the Left sure does. LGBT activists at the Human Rights Campaign were wringing their hands over the power the DOJ has to reshape the debate. "Donald Trump just let the fox into the hen house," a spokeswoman complained. "We are watching, and we will challenge any effort by [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions or other agencies of Trump's administration to license discrimination." One concern, she went on, is that President Trump "... [has ensured] that many pieces that were in the leaked executive order [from earlier this year will] potentially come to fruition." We certainly hope so. If LGBT activists can live openly, why can't Christians? The Barronelle Stutzmans and Don Vander Boons of the world deserve the same freedom to operate by their beliefs. And if anyone understands that, thank goodness it's this administration.
For more on one of the targets of the executive order – the Johnson Amendment – check out Travis Weber's new piece here.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.