Flanked by members of his Evangelical Advisory Board, President Donald Trump on May 3 used the occasion of the National Day of Prayer to take another shot at the wall of separation between church and state.
Speaking during a Rose Garden ceremony, Trump unveiled a new "religious freedom" directive titled "Executive Order on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative."
Members of Americans United's Legislative Department analyzed the order and found it to be problematic. They noted that though the order talks about religious freedom, it's really just another vehicle to allow people to use religion as grounds for discrimination.
The order also changes existing regulations designed to protect people who use government-funded social service programs that are being handled by religious organizations.
Under rules drawn up by a bipartisan group of advisors who worked during the presidency of Barack Obama, people who are uncomfortable with the religious character of a faith-based provider have the right to access an alternative provider. The new Trump order strips away that protection.
The order also mandates the creation of "Faith and Opportunity" offices in every federal agency and department. The primary job of these offices will be to enforce a document produced by the U.S. Department of Justice that purports to protect religious freedom but that really promotes discrimination. As Americans United has noted, the guidance interprets the law in a manner designed to foster religious exemptions, regardless of how these exemptions would affect other people or the public interest.
In a post about the order on AU's "Wall of Separation" blog, AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett noted that the guidance "explicitly states that faith-based organizations may accept taxpayer dollars to perform social services and use those funds to discriminate in hiring. "
Garrett added, "And we know some government contractors want to cite religion to refuse to provide vital services required under their contract, like reproductive health care to victims of sexual assault."
The Faith and Opportunity offices will also be charged with identifying and reducing "barriers" that supposedly keep faith-based groups from interacting with the government and eliminating "burdens on the exercise of religious convictions."
But as Garrett and others have noted, these barriers are largely imaginary. Faith-based organizations deliver social services on behalf...