Monday, May 08, 2017

Atheists Suing President Trump Over Religious Freedom EO

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

In the course of human events... the path to religious liberty is sometimes rocky.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the nation's largest atheist organization, filed suit against President Trump hours after he signed his executive order on religious freedom last Thursday.

Some evangelical leaders are expressing disappointment, saying the EO "says nothing," while other evangelical leaders are rejoicing over it.

Is the EO a stepping stone or a stumbling block?

When President Trump signed the EO, he said, "Today my administration is leading by example as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America."

He said, "No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors... faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation...we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore."

The Executive Order says, "It is the duty of the executive branch to protect and promote religious liberty."

Before the ink dried, the concept of religious freedom was being challenged.

The atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling the order "unconstitutional," arguing that the president does not have the power to "overturn" the law.

Associated Press notes that the atheists are claiming the order grants preferential treatment to religious organizations while the secular non-profit groups are required to still abide by the law.

The Freedom From Religion group lawsuit says, "As a result of President Trump's (order), churches and religious organizations will be able to blatantly and deliberately flaunt the electioneering restrictions... including during the upcoming 2018 elections, unlike secular non-profits including FFRF."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the IRS from implementing the president's order.

The suit was filed in Madison, Wis. and is asking a federal judge in Madison to enforce the same restrictions on secular organizations as it does on religious ones. There are plenty of far Left activist judges in Madison. We'll see what happens.

The rocks in the path are not only the atheists.

The Christian Post says, "Not all conservatives were happy because the order was much more scaled back than a draft order leaked to the press in February. Prominent conservative thinkers and religious freedom advocates like Robert P. George and Ryan Anderson expressed disappointment in the order. In a Facebook post, George proclaimed that the order does 'nothing'."

Liberty Counsel Chairman Matt Staver says, "Some of the things in that leaked executive order were beyond the authority of the president to address because they deal with individual state conflicts, such as the baker and the florist kinds of cases. That's not in the ability of the presidential resolve, that's a state issue."

He said, "I think if you look at this order, it has the proposition that religious freedom will be protected and promoted. That is a significant change in not only the past two terms, frankly the last several presidents," Staver added. "That particular provision is directed by the president across the board in all the federal agencies and departments to protect and promote religious freedom in a rigorous manner. That is the CEO telling the department heads what the policy is for the company and now it's your task to implement it."

Although the order doesn't enact concrete relief for other religious freedom concerns facing Christian business owners, military service members, Christian colleges, faith-based federal contractors and others, prominent legal experts on religious freedom told The Christian Post on Friday that the order should be celebrated because it establishes that the administration will "vigorously" protect religious freedom and instructs federal agencies to address religious liberty concerns caused by policies of the Obama administration.

Mike Barry, a lawyer with First Liberty Institute, said, "One of the most important elements of the executive order that some critics are overlooking is Section 4, which calls on the Department of Justice to 'issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law' in order to 'guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law'."

"What [Trump] is saying is, 'My administration is going to promote and protect religious liberty. In order to do that, the Department of Justice, I want you to look at existing federal laws and anything that touches religious liberty, I want you to issue guidance that is consistent with the guidance that I just gave,'" Berry summarized.

Although the order doesn't directly reverse any specific Obama-era policies or create any new regulations, Berry believes Section 4 will allow the Justice Department to begin "scrubbing" Obama-era regulations that have caused religious liberty concerns.

While I personally have a great degree of respect for and confidence in both Robert P. George and Ryan T. Anderson---and often quote them---I disagree with them on this.

I don't believe this EO "does nothing." I believe it does a great deal.

One News Now summarized comments by other evangelical leaders:

Tony Perkins, Family Research Council: "This step today starts the process of reversing the devastating trend set by the last administration to punish charities, pastors, family owned businesses and honest, hard-working people simply for living according to their faith. This trend is in part why 60 percent of Trump voters in the last election said they were more likely to vote for him because the GOP platform is very clear on religious liberty and unborn life."

Dr. Jerry Johnson, National Religious Broadcasters: "President Trump deserves praise for applying an emergency brake on the government’s movement toward coercion and discrimination. There is much that is commendable in the executive order, even while there is much that is missing – and that I pray will be soon addressed. Today’s action is a breath of fresh air and should be understood, I believe, as a first step toward righting the wrongs of recent years and reassuring people of faith that they are not second-class citizens."

Todd Starnes with Fox News, best summarized my own thoughts.

He said Friday, "An army of militant atheists and LGBT activists are hell-bent on eradicating Christianity from the public marketplace and punishing Christians who follow the teachings of Christ."

He says this order is for Barronnel Stutzman, the Richland, Washington florist and the Vander Boon family of Grand Rapids, Michigan, both of who have laid their business and their life's savings on the line for their biblical beliefs.

Starnes says some Christians might be puzzled by the president's executive order ---because it does not specifically mention protections for people like the Vander Boons or Mrs. Stutzman.

He says, "But fear not friends"---the "president has instructed the Department of Justice to come up with guidelines that protect people of faith and ensure that these protections are afforded to all Americans"

"And," he adds, "This president has demonstrated he is a friend to people of faith"...and "Just have faith."

I personally do not believe President Trump is the person tasked with "fixing" the spiritual ills of America, but I firmly believe the Lord is using him to create an environment---a reprieve--- in which the church can do what the Lord has called to do.

The biggest question is not what Trump will do, but what the Christian church in America will do with this opportunity?

Be Informed. Be Encouraged. Be Bold. Be Vigilant. Be Prayerful.