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How Should We Respond to the President’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty?

What are we to make of the long-awaited “Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty”?

Many conservatives are deeply disappointed with the order, resulting in headlines like these.

  • “Trump’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty Is Worse Than Useless” (David French);
  • “MY MISTAKE: Trump’s New Executive Order On Religious Freedom Turns Out To Be An Enormous Dud” (Ben Shapiro)
  • “Trump’s Executive Order Fails to Address Most Pressing Religious Liberty Threats” (Ryan Anderson).

Perhaps Princeton law professor Robert P. George summed it up best. He tweeted, “The religious liberty executive order is meaningless. No substantive protections for conscience. A betrayal. Ivanka and Jared won. We lost.”

Other conservatives were more positive, reflected in headlines like these.

  • “What Trump Understands about Religious Liberty in America” (Todd Starnes).
  • “Trump Is Ending Gov’t ‘Assault’ on Religious Liberty” (Robert Jeffress).

Some were very cautious: “Trump’s Executive Order a Baby Step in the Right Direction” (John Zmirak).

Let’s start with the positive. This is still a whole lot more than Hillary Clinton would have done. In fact, it is quite the opposite of what we would have expected from her if she was elected.

‘The Best News’

Kelley Shackleford, President, CEO and Chief Counsel of First Liberty Institute, issued a positive statement via email. He cited Mike Berry, Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs. “Today’s executive action by President Trump is the best news we’ve received from the White House in eight years.”

President and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Jerry Johnson applauded Trump. “President Trump deserves praise for applying an emergency brake on the government’s movement toward coercion and discrimination.”

Much Ado About Nothing

On the liberal side, the Huffington Post stated that the order wasn’t embraced by all. They reported, “Trump Just Signed A ‘Religious Liberty’ Order Even Evangelicals Aren’t Enthusiastic About.” In other words, much ado about nothing.

Even the ACLU, which was expected to oppose the order aggressively, gave it nothing more than a dismissive yawn. They tweeted, “We thought we’d have to sue Trump today. But it turned out the order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”

This is highly significant, given John Zmirak’s caustic comment about the ACLU. He stated, “the ACLU will condemn any measure that doesn’t require the Little Sisters of the Poor to serve as pole dancers in Vegas.”

Not surprisingly, CNN mocked the order with this headline: “Donald Trump’s big, bizarre religious day.”

Daniel Burke, CNN’s religion editor, offered his assessment of the order. He said that for weeks rumors about a sweeping executive order for religious freedom were swirling around. It was an order that “would grant religious believers, schools and corporations extensive exemptions to federal laws they disagree with, from LGBT protections to reproductive rights.”

He added that the order Trump signed wasn’t even close. It ended up “leaving many conservative Christians looking like the boy who wanted a BB gun for Christmas and instead got a pair of socks.”

What, then, are we to make of this?

The executive order itself is deeply flawed. It is still positive that the President of the United States used his bully pulpit for this cause.

Some Religious Freedom

Let’s start with the positive. This is still a whole lot more than Hillary Clinton would have done. In fact, it is quite the opposite of what we would have expected from her if she was elected.

We’ve had 8 years of attacks on our religious liberties under President Obama. It is refreshing to hear the President of the United States say: “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore. And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever.”

He added, “America has a rich tradition of social change beginning in our pews and our pulpits. We must never infringe on the noble tradition of change from the church and progress from the pew.”

And, remember, he said all this with faith leaders standing behind him.

He also stated, “Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue or any other house of worship. We are giving our churches their voices back and we are giving them back in the highest form.”

The executive order itself is deeply flawed. It is still positive that the President of the United States used his bully pulpit for this cause.

What’s Missing?

On the flip side, what is missing from the order is most conspicuous, leading to some of the harsh criticism cited above.

The fact is that the Johnson Amendment, as onerous as it was, has not been our big problem. A draft of a religious liberties executive order was circulated in February. The more important issues were addressed then.

As Ryan Anderson noted, the original draft was what was needed. It “would have finally and fully protected Americans from having to violate their consciences under the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate. It would have protected the ability of all Americans to buy health care that doesn’t cover or subsidize abortion. And it would have protected all Americans who believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife from federal government penalties or coercion.”

Those are the greater issues, issues which affect the average citizen, yet they are not addressed in the president’s new order. And let’s not forget, an opposite order was issued. It specifically extended Obama-era protections for LGBT’s in the federal workplace. Some believe that Ivanka and Jared Kushner were behind the LGBT-positive order. That’s why Prof. George commented that “Ivanka and Jared won. We lost.”

This is a step in the right direction, however small a step it may be.

Still, there is some light at the end of the tunnel in at least two ways.

A Step in the Right Direction

First, this is a step in the right direction, however small a step it may be. Christian conservatives should express their appreciation to the president. But they should also make clear that this is not enough. Not even close. Will he really fight for our liberties when push comes to shove?

Congress, too, needs to be encouraged strongly to step up to the plate and do what is right.

As Jerry Johnson said that the executive order was commendable in some ways. But he also believed a lot was missing from the order and prayed it would be addressed soon. Calling the order a “breath of fresh air,” Johnson said it was only a first step toward righting wrongs of recent years. It will hopefully reassure “people of faith that they are not second-class citizens.”

Second, as Ian Mason reported on Breitbart.com, the order displayed the administration’s commitment to religious liberty. It also authorized “Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue guidance for all federal agencies.”

And, “The protection of religious freedom has been seen as a priority for the new Sessions-led leadership at the Department of Justice.”

We can only hope that this is the case.

For the moment, we need to keep praying aggressively and keep pushing President Trump in the right direction.

Most of all, we need to do what is right because it is right, regardless of cost or consequences. If we carry that determination, no one can take our freedom from us, regardless of the law.

Written by Dr. Michael Brown. Visit Dr. Brown’s blog at www.askdrbrown.org. Follow Dr. Brown on Twitter @drmichaellbrown and on Facebook /askdrbrown

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