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Caroline C. Lewis / May 10, 2018

Faith Community Wins More Support From Trump

Trump signed an executive order establishing the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

While major news outlets continue to recycle stories on Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen and the Robert Mueller probe, it can be difficult to see if anything significant — or at least good — is happening in Washington. However, this administration has prioritized religious liberty, conscience rights and the importance of the faith community in our country’s policies.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed a little-noticed executive order establishing the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. The executive order acknowledges the vital role that faith and community-based organizations play in the transformation and empowerment of our society. “Faith-based and community organizations have tremendous ability to serve individuals, families, and communities through means that are different from those of government and with capacity that often exceeds that of government,” Trump’s order stated. “These organizations lift people up, keep families strong, and solve problems at the local level.”

The executive order also affirms the role that churches and other organizations play in the strengthening of marriages and family, religious freedom, education, health and humanitarian services, poverty alleviation, crime prevention and the remediation of addictions. These organizations know the needs of their communities and serve them directly in meaningful and productive ways.

Whether fighting human trafficking, sheltering battered women, providing meals for the homeless, mentoring at-risk school children, or creating sports-teams in urban communities, churches and organizations across this country transform our cities and our nation by walking with individuals and families through difficult seasons of life.

The White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative gives these organizations a level playing field to compete for government grants, contracts, programs and other federally funded opportunities. In this way, the administration seeks to provide equal access to grants for churches and organizations, rather than discriminating against them because of their religious status.

The executive order also seeks to reduce the burdens (whether legal or regulatory) placed on the exercise of religious convictions. This reduction of burdens stands in accordance with Executive Order 13798, which promotes free speech and religious liberty, and the attorney general’s memorandum issuing guidance on religious liberty. These actions reflect the administration’s prioritization of religious freedom.

The newly created position, “Advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” will lead the program and consult with community and faith leaders (outside of the government) for advice in areas such as poverty alleviation, substance abuse prevention, education and others. This changes the government from a relatively “closed system” unwilling to seek advice from faith and community leaders to an “open system” that allows for “we the people” to be heard.

President Trump signed the executive order and announced the establishment of the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative on May 3, the National Day of Prayer. During his comments in the White House Rose Garden, President Trump referenced the executive order and faith initiative stating, “The faith initiative will help design new policies that recognize the vital role of faith in our families, our communities, and our great country. This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs. We take this step because we know that, in solving the many, many problems and our great challenges, faith is more powerful than government and nothing is more powerful than God.”

In addition to the establishment of the Faith and Opportunity Initiative, the president’s support of faith and religious freedom has been a hallmark of his administration — and, by the way, that’s why evangelicals supported him.

On May 4, 2017, he signed an executive order supporting both religious liberty and religious speech. This order ensured the First Amendment rights of religious institutions to support political candidates and causes matching their values. This executive order also protected conscience rights of both religious organizations (such as Little Sisters of the Poor) and individual Americans, by ensuring that they would not be forced to comply with the ObamaCare contraceptive mandate.

The Department of Justice has also taken a stand for religious liberty and religious freedom. In October 2017, the Department released 20 principles of religious liberty intended to protect that liberty and guide the administration’s litigation strategy. Additionally, in January 2018, the Justice Department made a religious liberty update to the U.S. Attorney’s Manual and “directed the designation of a Religious Liberty Point of Contact for all U.S. Attorney’s offices.” In this way, the administration is prioritizing religious liberty in the American legal system — something that has been lacking in recent years.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formed the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in January 2018, which focuses on enforcing existing laws to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. This means that nurses and doctors cannot be forced to perform an abortion against their will.

In short, the new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative acknowledges the vital role that faith and community-based organizations play in our society, gives churches and other organizations equal access federal grants, promotes religious freedom and allows faith and community leaders to have a voice and advocate in the government. In addition to last year’s executive order supporting religious liberty, and the actions of the Justice Department and the establishment of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within HHS, the Faith and Opportunity Initiative prioritizes faith and religious liberty as a key component of a free people.

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