On the National Day of Prayer one year ago, President Trump issued an order to protect religious expression throughout the federal government, and a Family Research Council analysis has confirmed the positive impact, including allowing charities and other groups to provide up to 13.7 million people with health care or other services.
Now the president has gone a step further, signing a new executive order Thursday during the 2018 National Day of Prayer event at the White House. The order establishes a team to identify how the government can reduce the “burdens on the exercise of religious convictions and legislative, regulatory, and other barriers to the full and active engagement of faith-based and community organizations in government-funded or government-conducted activities and programs.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the announcement of Trump’s faith initiative is “further evidence that this administration is not only committed to protecting our First Freedom but in also acknowledging that our faith in God contributes to the guidance and well-being of our country.”
“I look forward to working with the president to make sure the community of faith will be able to bring hope and help to people in the United States and around the globe,” he said.
The order, the president said, sets up the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative to focus on protecting religious freedom and making sure “the faith-based and community organizations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the federal government.”
“Prayer has always been at the center of the American life. America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer,” the president said.
Along with advising how to reduce the burden of government rules on religion, the new office will monitor for any violations of religious liberty protections.
It also will ensure faith organizations are granted “equal access to government funding and equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs.”
The 2017 order gave flexibility for the IRS to opt out of enforcing the Johnson Amendment, which restricts faith groups’ speech regarding social and religious issues, and provided relief from Obamacare demands for contraception funding.
The president cited the ability of faith-based and community groups to “serve individuals, families, and communities through means that are different from those of government and with capacity that often exceeds that of government.”
“The organizations lift people up, keep families strong, and solve problems at the local level,” he said.
The order said religious groups should be allowed, “to the fullest opportunity permitted by law, to compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs and other federal funding opportunities.”
The initiative, to be headed by an adviser in the Office of Public Liaison, will seek information from faith experts, make recommendations to the president and monitor for failures to protect religious liberty.
FRC issued a report on the successes of Trump’s order from a year ago.
It pointed out the policy changes at the Departments of Agriculture, Justice, Defense and Health and Human Services, in addition to changes that “enabled at least 44 schools that provide an education for over 148,000 students to continue operating.”
One policy change helped Donald Vander Boon, who runs a meat packing company in Michigan.
FRC said that during the nation’s same-sex marriage debate, Vander Boon “wanted to leave literature expressing pro-natural marriage views in his breakroom.’
But USDA officials, operating on an ‘anti-harassment’ policy implemented by the Obama administration, threatened to remove USDA inspectors, which would force the business to close down.
But under Trump’s executive order, the USDA clarified its policy statements, protecting Vander Boon’s religious freedom.
Another result was an accommodation that allows faith organizations and companies to no longer be bound by Obama’s demand that they pay for abortions for employees, FRC said.
Also, the change then allowed those who bring claims of discrimination due to their religious beliefs to be on par with other types of discrimination, FRC said.
The organization said the work is not done.
“Many policies of the Obama administration demanding affirmation of categories such as sexual orientation and gender identity remain in place, and hang as a cloud over religious freedom insofar as they could be used to force people to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs on these matters,” the FRC report said. “These policies and regulations should be repealed or amended.”
Perkins said that no longer are Americans “punished or excluded from the public square because of their faith, rather they are welcomed and protected by our government.”