Trump Administration Receives High Marks So Far on Religious Liberty

American flag and church steeple against very clear blue sky

The Trump administration is receiving high marks so far for its religious liberty record from many advocates for the First Amendment freedom.

The July 30 announcement of a religious liberty task force in the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Aug. 10 release of a Department of Labor policy directive to protect religious free exercise are the latest in a series of administration actions applauded by defenders of freedom of belief and practice. Yet, some advocates also say more remains to be done by this White House to safeguard religious liberty.

In commending the Trump administration, religious freedom defenders cite as evidence of its laudable record in the first year and a half the rollback of the Obama-era abortion/contraception mandate for religious non-profit organizations and the president’s nomination to the Supreme Court and other courts of judges who interpret the Constitution based on its original meaning.

This administration’s work to support religious freedom has been “truly historic,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in a phone interview with Baptist Press. “I don’t know that we’ve seen another administration show this level of commitment to Americans’ First Amendment freedoms, and it’s timely in that so many Americans and so many of [ADF’s clients] are facing hostility and persecution by state and local governments. So to see this commitment by the Trump administration is very welcome and to be commended.”

The Trump administration has “taken some very positive steps,” The Heritage Foundation’s Emilie Kao told BP by phone.

Kao, director of Heritage’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, pointed to the work of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in particular.

Sessions, who heads DOJ, “is putting the correct emphasis on religious freedom as our First Freedom in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which is unfortunately very needed now because people seem to have forgotten that this is our first freedom and that it’s enshrined in the Constitution and that it is so important to the peaceful pluralism that we’ve enjoyed in this country for so long,” she said.

As in the past, the issue is vital for Baptists, an advocate for freedom of religion told BP.

“Religious liberty is an issue of fundamental importance for Baptists from the beginning of the American experiment to today,” said Travis Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “It is a right granted by God but one that must be defended anew in every age because every generation brings new challenges.”

The ERLC “will continue working with this administration and all branches and levels of government to ensure religious liberty is protected,” Wussow said in written comments.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press, Tom Strode