Conservatives Amen New Faith Office

Conservatives Amen New Faith Office

May 03, 2018

There was a time, not too long ago, when Americans wondered if the National Day of Prayer could even survive an administration as hostile to faith as Obama's. But, every May for eight years, even the most liberal president in history -- whether out of obligation or sincere belief -- couldn't escape what America is and has always been: one nation, under God.

Now, a year and a half into an administration that runs to our Christian heritage -- not away from it -- today is a celebration. Under President Trump, the National Day of Prayer isn't a just 24-hour cease fire in the government's war on faith -- but the acknowledgement of a year-round culture change, where religion and freedom matter. In sharp contrast to the previous administration, President Trump is committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom 365 days year. As he said today, "We must cherish our spiritual foundation" and the actions of this administration back it up.

At today's Rose Garden ceremony, I was one of the dozens of faith leaders on hand to witness the latest proof of this president's sincerity: the kick-off of the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. By executive order, President Trump took the last two administration's attempts at faith-based outreach and turned it into a powerful and expanded agent of inclusive change. The new office, which will report directly to the White House, won't be a symbolic gesture or a pretext for pet projects, but a commitment to ensure the ability of individuals of faith to be at home in every U.S. agency.

Unlike past offices, Trump's emphasis is giving faith groups a stronger voice on areas like poverty, religious liberty, education, family, prisoner reform, mental health, and human trafficking. This White House wants religious groups and organizations to have "strong advocates" across the federal government -- which is a radical departure from the presidents of the past. Specifically, the order states:

Faith-based and community organizations have tremendous ability to serve individuals, families, and communities through means that are different from those of government and with capacity that often exceeds that of government. These organizations lift people up, keep families strong, and solve problems at the local level. The executive branch wants faith-based and community organizations, to the fullest opportunity permitted by law, to compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs, and other Federal funding opportunities. The efforts of faith-based and community organizations are essential to revitalizing communities, and the Federal Government welcomes opportunities to partner with such organizations through innovative, measurable, and outcome-driven initiatives.

Even the project's unveiling was significant. At one point in today's ceremony, the president took the opportunity to single out John Ponder, a fatherless kid who grew up on the streets and in gangs. John was in and out of jail for years until, at age 38, he was arrested for robbing a bank. He ended up in federal prison, in solitary confinement. That's where, as President Trump put it, "God found him." After reading the Bible and listening to Christian radio, John woke up one night with a jolt to the voice of Billy Graham in his head, and he accepted Christ.

The first day John got out of jail, he had a knock on his door. "It was the man who put him in jail, FBI Special Agent Richard Beasley. "I want you to know that I've been praying for you very strongly," Beasley told him. "God called me to the FBI in part because of you, John." As for John, he runs a full-time prison ministry now. But the moment was important for a couple of reason -- one, which the president himself pointed out when both men were on stage. "You notice a big difference between now and two or three years ago?" he asked. "[America] was going in the other direction rapidly, right? Now, it's straight up."

What an incredible difference this administration has made in the simple expression and acknowledgement of faith! Two years ago, he's absolutely right. These men wouldn't have been held up as an example -- Richard probably would have lost his job! Instead, the president of the United States is using them as a living testimony of everything FRC is fighting for: the ability to do your job, guided by faith. Under Obama, they wouldn't have been an illustration of devoted service, but unacceptable behavior!

No longer are Americans punished or excluded from the public square because of their faith, rather they are welcomed and protected by our government. So today, of all days, let's be grateful -- not only that we're a nation of prayer, but that we're also a nation of answered prayer.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Sue 'Em!

May 03, 2018

The presidential election was a year and a half ago, but some on the Left just can't seem to wrap their minds around the results. Different administrations have always had different agendas. It's a fact of political life. Abortion groups, on the other hand, seem to think it's outrageous -- wrong, even -- for Donald Trump to have his own ideas about how our government runs. But instead of making their case to voters, who put leaders in power, these activists run to their old faithful ally: the courts.

It's a strategy as old as liberalism itself. When you can't get voters to do your bidding, ask judges to do it for you! It's the Left's favorite way of forcing on the nation what Americans would never choose for themselves. Same-sex marriage was a perfect example. Two years ago, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) herself admitted that redefining marriage wasn't nearly as popular as they'd led everyone to believe. "Legislatively, we couldn't really succeed," she said, "but from the courts and the rest... that victory has been won."

These days, the Trump administration can't even sneeze in the Left's direction without some extremist organization taking them to court over it. We've seen lawsuits over the most benign exercises of his executive power -- his role as commander-in-chief, his authority over immigration, education, national security, and his own agencies' spending! Now that HHS is rethinking Obama's "family planning" strategy, groups like Planned Parenthood are furious that anyone would reconsider their multi-million dollar slice of taxpayer pie.

"The Trump administration is clearly trying to push their abstinence-only agenda," argued Planned Parenthood attorney Carrie Flaxman. Well, unfortunately for them, that's the president's prerogative! If Planned Parenthood wanted the White House to promote their values, they should have persuaded more Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton. Elections have consequences -- and one of 2016's is that President Trump is finally taking an honest look at the country's approach to family planning. And guess what he discovered? The same thing as Obama's CDC: the Left's strategy isn't working.

HHS did what voters elected them to do: rewrite the rules to emphasize sexual risk avoidance (or abstinence). There shouldn't be anything controversial about that. Nothing about these regulations outlaws contraception or contraception funding. All the Trump administration has done is level the playing field for groups that promote the most effective -- and most popular -- approach.

You can't sue an administration for winning the election and running the country by a different ideology than yours. Yet, still, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are taking the president to court for, well, being the president. What's the point of even having executive and legislative branches if these extremists insist on running everything through the courts?

"It's hard to believe that a federal program that is dedicated to family planning does not mention the words 'contraception' or 'prevention' even once in a 60-page funding announcement," said Clare Coleman, president and CEO of National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. "This administration has set aside the program's core mission in favor of endorsing 'no sex outside of marriage.' ...They are trying to push people toward abstinence or pressure women into marriage instead of helping them get quality health care." What these groups don't seem to realize (after eight years of rolling in taxpayer money) is that there's no constitutional right to government funds. It's completely up to Congress and the administration (and, by proxy, voters) how these dollars are spent.

Meanwhile, the courts shouldn't be used like a magic genie that you can rub when your ideas don't persuade voters. Liberals lost in 2016, and they'll get another chance. But it's time they stopped relying on activist judges to do what voters wouldn't.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Taking Religious Liberty Near and Farr

May 03, 2018

After eight back-breaking years, you can't blame people for being skeptical about Donald Trump's promise to pull religious liberty out of Obama's trash heap. After all, most Christians had emerged from the last two terms like veterans of a war, bruised and traumatized. For the first time, they'd seen an American president turn the full force of government on his own people -- Catholic nuns, family businesses, even his military. Undoing that damage would be difficult, but not -- as we know now -- impossible.

A few months into Trump's administration, Christians got their first taste of life outside the bunker when the president did what seemed unlikely just a year and a half ago and issued an executive order protecting our First Freedom. Some people were unconvinced. "I think the best response is to reserve judgment until we see what Trump's administration does," wrote one conservative. Well, one year later, FRC can tell you exactly what the president's order has done: given hundreds of charities, schools, faith-based groups, and small businesses a fresh chance to operate under their beliefs. "It is the policy of this administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty," Trump declared. And thanks to his order, the president's cabinet has done exactly that, FRC's Travis Weber explains in a new publication on the last year's progress.

From meat-packing companies to combat pilots, Travis explains how the executive order sparked a true revival of the legal protections for religious freedom in America. In his analysis, the president's action has helped charities and other groups provide up to 13.7 million people with health care and other social services. But the order's impact hasn't been limited to the U.S.

This week, FRC hosted a panel discussion exploring the connection between worldwide religious freedom and national security with Dr. Tom Farr, Professor Robert Destro, both distinguished advocates in the field, and FRC's own Travis Weber.

This discussion comes at a crucial time, as we finally have the personnel in place to understand and promote this issue worldwide. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just been confirmed, following the earlier confirmation of Sam Brownback as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. Combine that with this president's increasing focus on the issue, and we have a recipe for global success.

Now that our government is ready to be engaged on this, what should we do? As Farr and Destro pointed out, our foreign policy professionals have to start by embracing religion as an area of engagement. They've been trained to stay away from it as a "problem" area, but this is the wrong approach. To address the many issues around the world right now, not least of which is radical Islam, we need engagement from within those communities, including from within Muslim communities. And how do you engage religious leaders on the cause of religious freedom if you're not engaging with them at all?

Second, as Farr and Destro recognized, we need to engage the issue of religious freedom because it's in our own interest to do so. Religious freedom is often dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and for this reason, many foreign policy professionals don't see it as central to their work. But there is an overwhelming correlation between nations which are threats to the United States and nations which violate religious freedom. In light of this, as Farr and Destro noted, one would think foreign policy professionals would see why they need to understand religion.

Unfortunately, they are trained to think religion is toxic, and we have thus failed to engage on it. Even the nonpartisan Center for Security and International Studies points out our failure in this area. Those who want to brush off religious engagement are aided by courts interpreting the Establishment Clause in an unrealistic and improper manner -- to exclude religious engagement by our government.

All of this, unfortunately, works only to our detrime nt because if we don't engage religious communities, we can't build conditions for religious freedom.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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