Evangelicals are anticipating President Donald Trump’s next move to protect religious liberty, after he nominated a supportive judge to the Supreme Court and defended the cause at the National Prayer Breakfast last week.
Reports circulated over a draft of an executive order designed to expand protections for individuals, organizations, and corporations’ religious convictions—including traditional beliefs on gender, sexuality, and marriage.
Last Thursday, both Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated the new administration’s commitment to ensuring religious liberty and defending the right for Americans to “express areas of their faith without reprisal.” Spicer did not confirm Trump’s plans for the four-page leaked draft, titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.”
Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence dodged a question about the administration’s plans for an executive order on religious liberty (instead focusing on the President’s pledge to repeal the Johnson Amendment). It’s unclear whether or when Trump plans to act on such an order. But advocates for both religious and LGBT rights continue to weigh in on the proposal.
According to experts, Trump’s executive order would strengthen religious exemptions under federal laws and programs, but it wouldn’t have the reach to quell debates over Christian-owned businesses refusing to serve same-sex weddings.
Yet the draft describes wide-ranging protections, saying, “Persons and organizations do not forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with federal, state, or local governments.”
Under the order, organizations fighting the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate on religious grounds, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, would be granted accommodations. Social services organizations receiving federal dollars—such as adoption agencies—could operate according to their beliefs on marriage. Faith-based institutions such as schools and nonprofits would not risk losing tax exemptions over their policies or politics.
“It protects the religious liberty rights of all Americans in very tailored ways that address problems of today,” wrote Heritage Foundation researcher Ryan Anderson, listing and defending the provisions of Trump’s draft order from criticism by LGBT advocates that the order is discriminatory and overreaching.
Overall, evangelicals and Catholics—two groups concerned that their beliefs against same-sex marriage and abortion are increasingly becoming counter-cultural and unwelcome in public life—see the protections as helpful measures.
“Freedom of conscience and religious liberty are of utmost importance to us, and to millions of other religious people in the United States,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We support an executive order making clear that people of religious conviction will not be pushed aside by the federal government as we seek to serve our neighbors, including those who disagree with us.”
The Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, and National Organization for Marriage have also affirmed the draft of the order. A member of the Little Sisters group called the leaked document “a very hopeful sign that things could be coming to an end.”