By Anne Doherty
Merry (post) Christmas and Happy (post) Hannukah. Welcome to a series of articles on the accomplishments of Donald J. Trump. This topic proves daunting both because he has accomplished so much in so little time and because the president plays chess in the time space continuum - a fancy way of saying that his every move, no matter how small, has larger implications. He is doing much more than fulfilling campaign promises; his accomplishments in one year have already done much to affect the country for decades to come. With respect to religious liberty, he has taken significant steps to protect it by taking charge of the national dialogue, by installing judges to defend it in court, and by announcing the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
A hearty “Merry Christmas” uttered with the force of the president’s exuberant personality is enough to deflate his Leftist opposition, which for the past eight years of Obama - and through more than 40 years by the mainstream media - has conducted an open war against Christianity and religious faith in general.
In fact, the Left’s tactics had succeeded dramatically. Between 2008 and 2015, the percent of Americans identifying as Christian dropped from 80% to 75%, while the percent of religious non-Christians remained stable at 5% and the percent of atheists or “decline to state” rose from 15% to 20%. (Gallup News, December, 2017).
So, by decorating the White House for Christmas and sending out Christmas cards, the president has inspired millions, particularly in cities, to embrace again Christmas and our First Amendment rights.
Since his election, Trump has supported religious liberty in speech upon speech. At the Value Voters Summit last October, he said: “In America, we don't worship government – we worship God” and “We defend our Constitution. We protect religious liberty. We treasure our freedom.” (FoxNews.com)
President Trump put his words into practice in May, 2017, by issuing the executive order called "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty," which gives "regulatory relief" to companies objecting to the Obamacare mandate for contraception in health care. At the Rose Garden signing, he said: ”Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation… We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.” (nbcnews.com).
In keeping with the order, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law. The guidance, too long to cover here, interprets existing protections for religious liberty and identifies 20 principles that agencies can use to ensure the religious freedoms of Americans.
Sessions issued a second memo to the Department of Justice, saying “the freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations,” “Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government” and government “may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.” (wnd.com)
The president’s long game to protect religious freedom is reflected in his court appointments, most importantly Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which is, as of this writing, hearing the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. Justice Gorsuch, young by Supreme Court standards, will influence the court for decades and has a history of supporting religious freedom, including in two landmark Religious Freedom Restoration Act cases: Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.
The president has also been actively appointing conservative judges to the United States federal court. 17 Article III judges have been confirmed, while 42 still await Senate action. Article III judges are appointed for life - so it’s easy to see that enemies of conservatism, including some in the Republican Party, would stall confirmations as long as possible.
Lastly, with his intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, the president has required parts of the world concerned with the Middle East to weigh in on religious freedom. As a skilled negotiator, the president is expert at discerning the true motives of those with whom he engages.
With the proposed move, he is really asking all players at the table what they really want. The move supports Israel which wants a secure homeland for Judaism, while forcing Palestine, which also claims Jerusalem as capital, but where ISIS is now gaining ground, to negotiate - that is, if their true goal is to worship in peace. So this move actually presses “repressive regimes” to “restore political and religious freedom for their people.” (foxnews.com)
In ways big and small, personal and political, intimate and international, President Trump has reinforced the religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution, a right close to American hearts, and is strategically maneuvering against those who oppose this freedom here and abroad. What else is there to say but "Thanks be to God."