08 May Let’s Get Real about the Religious Freedom EO
It’s time to get real about President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) on Religious Freedom; and to those who are ginning-up the tempest, I have a modest suggestion – simmer down. On the left, secular extremist groups and separation-of-church-and-state advocates are threatening to sue the Administration for alleged constitutional violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. http://thehill.com/regulation/331936-aclu-and-others-ready-lawsuits-on-trumps-religious-exemption-order And on the right (if you can believe the vocally anti-Trump Economist or some of the knee-jerking on the Twitter-sphere) conservatives are caterwauling that Trump has abandoned his campaign promise, among others, to obliterate the so-called “Johnson Amendment” (the IRS rule that threatens churches and religious non-profits with loss of their tax exempt status if they either publicly support or oppose any candidate running for political office). http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2017/05/sound-and-fury
In fact, neither of those two positions has it right.
Some well-reasoned responses have already tried to navigate between these two extremes, like the one from my friends at the Alliance Defending Freedom http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/332108-trumps-religious-freedom-executive-order-can-be#.WQzMx75tuq8.twitter reminding us that changing the IRS law is never within the authority of the Executive Branch; constitutionally, that task belongs to Congress.
But one thing is still missing in this debate: reality. The EO on Religious Freedom is designed to affect change in the real political world of Washington bureaucracy. There are more than four million federal employees in various federal offices. I believe that most of them want do the right thing, the legal thing, even if it grates them. But imbedded in agencies are career bureaucrats with an axe to grind against religious practitioners, particularly those who are conservative, or Evangelical, and especially both. The legal organization I work with, the American Center for Law and Justice, has led the fight to expose the illegal actions of IRS staffers and higher-ups who have deliberately harassed certain non-profit groups simply because of their viewpoints. The congressional hearings on that issue have proven that point beyond debate.
The point is this: the EO is, in effect, reading the law as it really is to these federal agencies regarding religious liberty – not the way the secular radicals and entrenched agency staffers wish it was. It tells them they have to obey the Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby regarding the religious rights of faith-based companies and entities, and to follow the ruling in Citizens United regarding the free speech rights of conservative non-profit activist groups; obey it, the EO seems to be saying, or else. Given the massive bureaucratic mess in Washington, that message is long overdue, and it supplies a dose of something long overdue in our nation’s capital: reality.