July 8, 2017

Congress Must Act to Strengthen Trump’s Order on Religious Liberty

President Trump’s executive order on free speech and religious liberty, while welcome, is rather weak. It is woefully inadequate in meeting the challenges of our time.

President Trump's executive order on free speech and religious liberty, while welcome, is rather weak. It is woefully inadequate in meeting the challenges of our time.

Congress must act, therefore, to address the major threats to religious liberty in the United States today. It must correct the violations that took place during the previous administration, and prevent future administrations from violating the religious liberty rights of Americans.

Trump’s EO contains three main components. First, it contains general language about the importance of religious liberty, saying the executive branch “will honor and enforce” existing laws and instructing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to “issue guidance” on existing law.   Second, it instructs the Department of the Treasury to be lenient in the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment—a law limiting the political activities of 501c3 organizations—as applied to religious organizations.

And third, it instructs the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (HHS) to “consider issuing amended regulations” to “address conscience-based objections” to the HHS contraception mandate.

So why is it weak? The first component simply reiterates what already exists — the federal government should be honoring and enforcing our religious liberty laws anyway. On the second, legislation—such as the Free Speech Fairness Act—is required to actually address the Johnson Amendment, which doesn’t concern the most pressing religious liberties facing Americans. And on the third, the EO merely tells the agencies to “consider” new regulations, but the Supreme Court has already unanimously instructed the federal government to resolve the case of Little Sisters of the Poor and other HHS mandate cases.

Much more is needed. Congress should give President Trump the opportunity to sign robust religious liberty protections. Lawmakers must take the lead not just on these three issues, but on the most pressing religious liberty challenges of our day.

Congress can start by passing the Russell Amendment, the Conscience Protection Act, and the First Amendment Defense Act.

The Russell Amendment protects the abilities of religious organizations to make staffing decisions in keeping with their religious identity and mission. It provides protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.

The Conscience Protection Act creates a private right of action that allows people to sue in federal court if they believe there has been a violation of the Weldon Amendment, which prevents federal, state and local governments that receive certain federal funds from discriminating against health care entities that decline to “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions." This would address unlawful policies in California and New York that force all health care plans to cover abortion.

The First Amendment Defense Act prevents federal agencies from discriminating against individuals or institutions for following their convictions about marriage as a man-woman union by revoking their non-profit tax status, or denying them government grants, contracts, accreditation or licenses. 

President Trump promised to sign into law both the Conscience Protection Act and the First Amendment Defense Act. Congress should send them to his desk. These protections would take nothing away from anyone. They simply would ensure that the public square remains open to all religious voices, even when those voices diverge from the government’s view on contested questions. They would protect diversity, pluralism and tolerance. They are a license to participate.

As I explain in my new book from Oxford University Press, "Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination,” religious liberty is a birthright of all Americans. And yet over recent years, Americans have seen their religious liberty rights under assault as never before.

Congress must act so that all Americans may seek out and serve God and their neighbors according to their own convictions, not the government’s.

All Americans should remain free to worship God, serve the poor, educate the next generation, and run a business, all in accordance with their religious beliefs—whatever those religious beliefs happen to be. We should all be subject to the same legal standard: Government can only substantially burden the free exercise of religion if it is acting to advance a compelling government interest pursued in the least restrictive way possible.

Republished from The Heritage Foundation.

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our Military Mission of Service to our uniformed service members and veterans, are proud to support and promote the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, both the Honoring the Sacrifice and Warrior Freedom Service Dogs aiding wounded veterans, the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, the Folds of Honor outreach, and Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, and Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)


“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

Join us in prayer for our nation, that good and righteous leaders would rise and prevail, and that division would be healed so we can be united as Americans. We pray also for the protection of our Military Patriots, Veterans and First Responders, and for their families.

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2023 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.