In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, one of the “accomplishments” Donald Trump touted was “historic actions to protect religious liberty.” They may be historic, but they’re protecting the liberty of a select few, while threatening many others.
One of his most recent actions was the establishment of a so-called Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. The division will investigate complaints from health care providers who object to treating certain people performing certain procedures that go against their religious beliefs. This could lead to health care workers refusing to treat LGBT people, children of same-sex parents, and a host of others, all without repercussions. HHS has also proposed a new rule that will greatly broaden the right to discriminate in health care.
Also recently, the Senate confirmed Trump’s choice for ambassador for religious freedom, anti-LGBT politician Sam Brownback. As governor of Kansas and a U.S. senator from the state, Brownback has fought LGBT rights and reproductive freedom at every turn. He was such a controversial choice that Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, had to cast a tie-breaking vote for his confirmation.
Other “religious liberty” actions by the Trump administration:
Issuance of “religious freedom” guidance by the Department of Justice, allowing federal employees and contractors to discriminate against those who offend their religious sensibilities. It stands to result in discrimination against LGBT people, single parents, and many others, with the blessing of the federal government.
At the same time, in early October, rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers cover contraceptives at no cost to the employee. This action, temporarily blocked by courts, would let virtually any employer to deny coverage by claiming a religious or moral objection to contraceptives.
A Justice Department lawyer arguing at the Supreme Court in support of a baker’s refusal to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, has contended that because same-sex marriage goes against his Christian beliefs, he could not provide the cake. Forcing him to do so would violate his rights to religious and artistic freedom, he claimed, and the Justice Department supported him. A ruling is expected this summer.
Advising the Treasury Department not to take “adverse action” against churches, nonprofit groups, and individuals who speak on political issues from a religious perspective. This is meant to lessen the effect of the Johnson Amendment, which threatens the tax-exempt status of any church that endorses political candidates or makes campaign contributions.
Nominating federal judges, including a Supreme Court justice, who are hostile to LGBT rights and reproductive choice, often favoring a right to discriminate in the name of religion and likely to further erode the wall separating church and state.
And that’s the actions that invoke religion – many of the Trump administration’s destructive moves regarding LGBT people and women came with a purely secular justification, such as the transgender military ban, promoted out of supposed concern for military readiness.
But when it comes to religious freedom, Trump is completely in thrall to the far right, especially the Christian right. As Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, put it in a statement issued just after the State of the Union address: “Trump clearly doesn’t know what the words ‘religious liberty’ mean if he thinks he’s taken historic action to protect it. His actions in his first year as president have in fact significantly undermined the rights of people of faith whose beliefs don’t align with the president’s allies in the religious right.”