“How times have changed. But you know what? Now they’re changing back again, just remember that!” Nothing encapsulates President Trump’s message at the recent Values Voter Summit more than those words.
When the president addressed the summit last weekend in Washington, religious liberty was front and center in his speech. Perhaps more than any other president in recent history, he chose to squarely address the issue and not shy away from the social conservative base.
“In America, we don't worship government – we worship God,” President Trump boldly proclaimed. “We defend our Constitution. We protect religious liberty. We treasure our freedom.”
The president continued: “Religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights. And we all pledge allegiance to … one nation under God. This is America’s heritage, a country that never forgets that we are all are – all, every one of us – made by the same God in Heaven.” Indeed. Let us not forget this.
Values Voter Summit attendees were thrilled to see the president promote religious freedom in his speech. But even more significant than his words are his actions – policies that reflect the promises he made during the election campaign.
President Trump mentioned three clear steps he has taken to protect religious liberty domestically. The message to socially conservative voters was clear, and they will not forget it.
· He signed an executive order to ensure the Johnson Amendment does not interfere with the First Amendment and “allow government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis.” The Johnson amendment, named after then-senator and future president Lyndon Johnson, was made a provision of the U.S. tax code in 1954. It bars most nonprofit organizations, including religious institutions, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
· His Justice Department issued guidance explaining how religious liberty should be protected.
· He took “action to protect the conscience rights of groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor,” observing that “the Little Sisters of the Poor and other people of faith, they live by a beautiful calling, and we will not let bureaucrats take away that calling or take away their rights.” The nuns challenged an ObamaCare mandate that insurance plans must cover contraception.
True, religious freedom was not as much of a concern domestically until policies from the Obama administration and the courts placed the freedom to live according to our beliefs in the political crosshairs. Historically, politicians made promises to gain the important evangelical vote but rarely delivered with actual policies. The Trump administration is breaking with history and is laboring to keep its commitments.
President Trump went on in his remarks to specifically mention the importance of faith and religion in public life 19 times – not counting references to the idea by other terms. He quoted George Washington in noting “that ‘religion and morality are indispensable’ to America’s happiness, really, prosperity and totally to its success. It is our faith and our values that inspires us to give with charity, to act with courage, and to sacrifice for what we know is right.”
The president observed that the “American Founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence,” and “Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer.”
In an era when public prayer and displays of faith are so readily attacked, social conservatives were heartened to hear this reaffirmation of the role religion has played – and is still playing – for the public good of our country.
That the president recognizes the important social role of institutions of faith is a welcome turn from the Obama administration.
The Obama administration irrationally insisted on harassing the Little Sisters of the Poor and other faith-based groups, including threatening them with tens of millions of dollars in fines unless they yielded to the Department of Health and Human Services’ ObamaCare contraception mandate.
Yet the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to deny disaster assistance to churches simply because they are religious institutions. Work still needs to be done to ensure that our First Amendment and the new Justice Department religious liberty guidance is followed –both with regard to the FEMA policy and in other areas.
One of these other areas is the Middle East. As the president recognized, ISIS has “ruthlessly slaughtered innocent Christians, along with the vicious killing of innocent Muslims and other religious minorities,” and “repressive regimes” must “restore political and religious freedom for their people.”
While a genocide in the Middle East has been recognized, assistance has been slower in coming. Under U.S. policy, Christians are still being funneled through United Nations-run refugee camps in the Middle East. At these camps – as if they were not already traumatized enough by barely escaping genocide – the Christians are regularly subject to violence and mistreatment at the hands of Islamists.
This can change by directing U.S. assistance away from the U.N. and to organizations providing aid directly to these Christian communities. We must do more on this issue. If the government of Hungary can devote financial assistance and a high-level government post to this specific concern, the United States should be able to do so too.
Yes, a lot changed over the last eight years. America went from being a zealous advocate of religious freedom and human rights for all people, to being a promoter of special rights for a few. But you know what? Now those times are changing back again. We have the ability to promote and protect religious freedom both here and abroad – just remember that!