President Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order

May 4, 2017

President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty is a small step in the right direction after the hostility of the previous Administration. Even so, the limited scope of the President’s order is a disappointment, and therefore we hope it is the beginning of a process and not the end of one.

It would be a mistake to view the President’s order as a special accommodation to any person or group. Religious liberty is not something to be granted as a favor. It is something to be acknowledged and respected by leaders in all branches of government.

The President’s remarks before signing the executive order included an unfortunate reference to “freedom of worship.” That’s merely the right to exercise religious beliefs in a certain location at a certain time – a house of worship during scheduled services, for example. Religious liberty, however, means being free to exercise one’s religious beliefs at all times, in all locations, without government influence. It’s our hope that the President is truly committed to that.

The order appears to offer protection from IRS harassment to ministers who are bold enough to speak in their houses of worship about political matters. That’s good news. It’s up to legislators now to address this in a manner that will prevent the policy from being rescinded at the whim of the next President.

Religious objectors to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate may or may not have reason to rejoice in the order. President Trump today told the Little Sisters of the Poor that their ordeal was over, after years of litigation. Here’s what the order actually says: cabinet departments “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

Telling a department to “consider issuing regulations” is a long way from protecting religious liberty.

The President expressed commendable sentiments in his comments today before he signed the order. We hope those sentiments translate into iron-clad commitment to defending religious liberty if his order is faced with a legal challenge.

(Statement to the press 5/4/2017 by Shannon McGinley, Executive Director, Cornerstone Policy Research.)