The Trump administration is at it again, praise God!
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice launched a Religious Liberty Task Force at a summit for religious freedom. The goal of the task force is to implement the religious liberty guidance, a result of an executive order issued by President Trump in May of 2017.
The President’s 2017 executive order declared that “it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.” It also “directs the IRS to use maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment.” (The ominous and elusive threat of losing a tax-exempt status has been a giant thorn in the side of nonprofits, and has provided a big excuse for cowardly churches to be quiet about many issues that matter). Finally, it “provides regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate.”
Although the media criticized this executive order as big “nothing burger,” it was actually very meaningful to Priests for Life after our Supreme Court battle against the Obama- era HHS mandate. The mandate would have coerced our Catholic pro-life organization to act against our religious beliefs. President Trump’s order protects us from any future attempts at forcing religious organizations to provide coverage for abortifacients and contraceptives through health insurance.
The DOJ’s Religious Liberty Task Force also comes on the heels of years of court battles aimed at Christians. The Attorney General referenced the Colorado baker whose case went to the Supreme Court for not agreeing to to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding. Sessions also mentioned the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were co-petitioners with Priests for Life at the Supreme Court in the lawsuit against the aforementioned HHS mandate.
Without a doubt, the Obama-era has been particularly stingy with First Amendment rights. Other court cases include a florist who did not feel she could, in good conscience, be hired as a florist for a gay wedding and another case to fight the City of Philadelphia’s ban of Catholic Social Services from placing foster kids because of its longstanding religious beliefs about marriage. The politicized move was carried out despite not having received complaints about the agency.
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Sessions said the current hostile environment is, “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, [which] is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom…[and which] must be confronted and defeated.” And he is 100% correct.
But the good news is Trump loves nothing more than doing away with or flipping bad policy on its head. Making America Great Again might be President Trump’s favorite legacy as president. If the time was every ripe for religious freedom, it is now. All that is needed now is for Church leaders to take him at his word and take full advantage of the promises under his executive order. Indeed, the position of this Administration lines up perfectly with the position of the Catholic Church when it says, “At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgment even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 76).
And this applies in a particular way to the midterm elections. If clergy wish to practice freedom of speech from the pulpit, let them do so without censoring themselves with baseless fears about losing tax exemption or any other punishment. Let them speak up (finally) boldly and without fear, calling on God’s people to elect public servants who know the difference between serving the public and killing the public. Let them tell their people that if a candidate cannot respect the life of a little baby, he or she can hardly be expected to respect their lives.
Indeed, let pastors start equipping God’s people to make a difference in the voting booth, as the bishops have called them to do in Living the Gospel of Life (see www.GospelofLife.net). Let them inform their people about the voting records of the men and women asking for their vote, and about the positions of the political parties on key issues (see www.VotingInfo.net). Let them call their people to prayer as our nation goes to the voting booth (see www.ElectionPrayer.com). Let them stop worrying that their speech will cost them their tax exemption or that their government will punish them for preaching on morality in a way that actually connects with people’s day to day lives. Let the church strike while the iron is hot.