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Religious liberty executive order draws mixed reviews

President Trump speaks during a National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

(RNS) President Trump’s religious liberty executive order is drawing fire from critics on the left and mixed reviews from conservatives, many of whom say the order doesn’t go far enough.

The order, issued on Thursday (May 4) — the National Day of Prayer — said the government would address “conscience-based objections” to the health-care mandate and would not deny tax-exempt status to churches for politicking from the pulpit.

Here’s a sampling of the reaction:

National Association of Evangelicals

“While the executive order is a first step, it does not permanently resolve even the issues it addresses. Anything done by executive order can be undone by a future president. Threats to religious freedom in America need to be addressed through legislative action that protects religious liberty for all Americans.”

Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson

“Trump promised while on the campaign trail that he would robustly defend religious freedom from pressing threats. Today, he didn’t make good on that promise. But he still can, and should.”

Ralph Reed, chairman, Faith and Freedom Coalition

“By ending the Obamacare mandates that violate the religious faith of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other faith-based nonprofits, this executive order lifts a cloud of fear over people of faith and ensures they will no longer be subjected to litigation, harassment and persecution simply for expressing their religious beliefs.”

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice

“Make no mistake: these efforts have nothing to do with protecting aggrieved religious individuals or groups that feel they are being treated unfairly. It has nothing to do with ‘leveling the playing field’ to ensure religious institutions are not ‘discriminated against.’ It has everything to do with giving a carte blanche to sectarian interest groups that delivered votes for President Trump and putting extreme religious beliefs above all others.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

“Today’s executive order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate. We will engage with the administration to ensure that adequate relief is provided to those with deeply held religious beliefs about some of the drugs, devices, and surgical procedures that HHS has sought to require people of faith to facilitate over the last several years.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance

“On this day designated as the National Day of Prayer, President Trump would do well to remember that we are a nation of laws, not prayers. Worship is a protected right of each American, but it is neither a campaign tactic nor subject to the direction of any government official, including the president of the United States.”

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family

“Today’s action must be the first among others because the efforts by previous administrations to marginalize conservative communities of faith were real, thorough and complex. Yet, the combined effect of today’s executive order, legislative actions, and prayer service on the White House lawn are unprecedented. This president and vice president will go down in history as defenders of religious liberty, and I commend them for it.”

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

“Join me today in seeking the heart and mind of God in prayer and repentance, for ourselves, for our families, and for this country that we love. We will all do so with a full heart having already witnessed an answer to our prayers in the president’s decision today to strengthen our religious liberties. I commend President Trump for fulfilling this promise.”

Larry T. Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America

“The executive order signed by President Trump today is nothing more than a decree of religious privilege. This executive order is a twisted parody of the religious liberty it claims to protect and an unprecedented attack on the separation of church and state by a sitting President.”

Gregory S. Baylor, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom

“President Trump’s executive order provides hope, on this National Day of Prayer, that he will move fully toward fulfilling his promise to protect religious freedom for countless Americans. Regrettably, this executive order leaves that promise as yet unfulfilled. … (T)hough we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended.”

Tony Perkins, president of 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.”

The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral

“Easing the restrictions of the Johnson Amendment has the potential to deepen the ideological divides in this country and fracture congregations, not bridge them. This move will politicize churches, distract us from our intended mission and further polarize the people we are attempting to unite.”

Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters

“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.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

“Exploiting the National Day of Prayer to trample religious freedom highlights Trump’s zeal to substitute showmanship for sincerity. Today, the president pandered to his far-right fundamentalist base, upending protections for houses of worship and allowing religion to be used as an excuse to deny women coverage for contraception and other preventive health care.”

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute

“President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty should be both unnecessary and unremarkable. Yet activists have pledged to challenge President Trump in court for supporting the First Amendment. Our country was founded on the promise that its government would respect the religious liberty of its people.”

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

“This order appears to be largely a symbolic act, voicing concern for religious liberty but offering nothing to advance it. Worse, it is further evidence that President Trump wants churches to be vehicles for political campaigns.”

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union

“America is a deeply religious country because religious freedom and tolerance of divergent religious views thrive. President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate. It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care.”

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

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