by Bob Unruh
Faith leaders are praising what they hope is a first step by the Trump administration to protect religious liberties that were put in a bull’s-eye by the Obama administration.
President Trump signed an executive order Thursday instructing that churches be given the widest freedom possible from the Johnson amendment of 1954 that restricts their speech. It also instructs that Christians no longer be targeted by the government with campaigns that violate their faith.
James Dobson, the pioneering radio voice of Christian and family values for tens of millions through Focus on the Family and now Family Talk, was himself targeted under Obama’s mandate that even Christian organizations provide abortion-causing drugs to employees who request them.
His response then?
“Come and get me if you must,” he said, affirming he would not comply with the Obama mandate.
In response to Trump’s new order, Dobson expressed hope that the nation is taking a turn for the better.
He was among a small group invited by the president and vice president to the White House Wednesday evening, and he was in attendance Thursday at the signing at the National Day of Prayer Commemoration in the Rose Garden.
“I have been privilege to serve five presidents. I’ve witnessed the ebb and flow of politics in this country for a half century, and I prayed with great anxiety about the future as I watched President Obama move this nation in a direction that defied the Constitution, especially as it relates to religious liberty,” he said.
“In all these years I’ve never found myself more optimistic about the preservation of our Judeo-Christian values as I am today.”
Dobson said Thursday’s executive order “must be the first among others because the efforts by previous administrations to marginalize conservative communities of faith were real, thorough and complex.”
“Yet, the combined effect of today’s executive order, legislative actions, and prayer service on the White House lawn are unprecedented. This president and vice president will go down in history as defenders of religious liberty, and I commend them for it,” he said.
Gregory S. Baylor of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which fought Obama’s agenda over and over in the courtroom, said: “During his campaign, President Trump stated that the first priority of his administration would be to preserve and protect religious liberty. In speeches, he said the Little Sisters of the Poor and other people of faith will always have their religious liberty protected on his watch and will not have to face bullying from the government because of their religious beliefs. Religious voters took him at his word, giving the president a mandate to affirm and protect Americans’ first freedom.
“The current outline of the Religious Liberty Executive Order released by White House officials recalls those campaign promises but leaves them unfulfilled,” he said.
First, no specific relief is offered to families like the Vander Boons in Michigan, who were threatened with the effective closure of their family-run business for simply expressing a religious point of view on marriage that differed from that of the federal government.
Second, the outline directs the IRS ‘to exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment.’ But Americans cannot rely on the discretion of IRS agents, some of whom have abused that discretion for years to silence pastors and intrude into America’s pulpits. Nor does the outline do anything to prevent a future, hostile administration from wielding its power to penalize any church who dares exercise its constitutionally protected freedoms in a manner that displeases those in authority. A legislative problem like the Johnson Amendment demands a legislative solution like the Free Speech Fairness Act.
Third, the outline indicates it will ‘provide regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate, a position supported by the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby.’ The president certainly should fulfill his promise to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor, a host of Christian colleges, and others from having to choose between violating their consciences and paying crippling fines to the IRS.
A pledge to ‘provide regulatory relief’ is disappointingly vague, especially given the long existence of an obvious means of solving the problem: crafting an exemption that protects all those who sincerely object on religious and moral grounds so that they can continue to serve their communities and the most vulnerable among them. We encourage the administration to pursue that course of action and to do so promptly so that it can resolve the dozens of cases still pending against it.
We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion and to ensure that all Americans – no matter where they live or what their occupation is – enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment.
ADF President Michael Farris noted: “For many years, ADF has been advocating on behalf of pastors and churches who have had their speech chilled as a result of the Johnson Amendment. We have also filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of religious organizations, colleges, and businesses who object to being compelled to pay for abortifacients and other procedures that have the potential to end the life of an unborn child. President Trump’s executive order provides hope, on this National Day of Prayer, that he will move fully toward fulfilling his promise to protect religious freedom for countless Americans.”
He said the executive order doesn’t finish the work.
“As we have explained, though we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended. We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion and to ensure that all Americans – no matter where they live or what their occupation is—enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment. As the president said today, ‘No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.’”
The Little Sisters of the Poor also took the Obama administration to court when it demanded that they provide abortion-causing drugs in violation of their Christian faith and won a precedent-setting case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump interrupted his prepared remarks Thursday to invite a couple of leaders of the religious order up to the Rose Garden podium so he could shake their hands.
He also quipped about using their lawyers.
“You had good lawyers? You mind if I use your lawyers?” he said. “I could use some.”
Trump continued his remarks.
“We’re a nation of believers,” he said. “Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country.”
He explained his order protects religious believers.
“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced any more.”
Under Obama, bakers had been ordered to violate their faith to promote homosexuality under the guise of nondiscrimination.
“We remember this eternal truth: Freedom is not a gift from government, freedom is a gift from God,” Trump said. “Too long the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith.”
He said his goal was to make sure “that the federal government will never ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs.”
Liberty Counsel, which also fought the Obama administration over the imposition of its secular agenda on religious organizations, said the order directs the IRS to alleviate whenever possible the “burden of the Johnson amendment, and provides regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate.”
It was then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas who pushed the amendment in 1954, barring non-profit, tax-exempt groups, including churches and religious organizations, from endorsing candidates for elected office.
“We commend President Trump for sending a message to Congress and the rest of America that religious freedom must be protected,” said Liberty Counsel’s chief counsel, Mat Staver. “This is an appropriate way to commemorate the National Day of Prayer as our president commits to protect and promote religious freedom.”
CRTXNEWS. All rights reserved www.crtxnews.com