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.”

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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  • No big surprise on who is for or against it. This XO will likely join its immigration sibling in federal court.

  • There is even less ambiguity as to its fate then the immigration order.

    The second EO for immigration was defanged enough that it might have passed muster if Trump and Co weren’t such motormouth bigots in public, giving clear discriminatory intent.

    This one is DOA.

  • Maybe it will indeed. Maybe Gorsuch, or Gorsuch plus Trump’s next USSC nominee, might be a necessary key to keeping this religious liberty order alive.

    But it doesn’t matter. There was NO religious liberty order, NO sympathetic president and courts, NO friendly national media, when the brave Kim Davis and Baronelle Stutzmann rose up and showed all the rest of us Christians the right thing to do (and how to pay the price).

    So whether Trump’s newly signed order enjoys a long life or a short life, it’s a blessing. Even if the order is dead by dawn, Christians already know that they do NOT have to bow and kowtow to the demon-possessed Obergefell decision. Just take a stand and enjoy the exorcism, I say !!

  • These types of comments break my heart. If Davis and Stutzmann are pillars of religious liberty and examples of how to be Christ like its not wonder people are leaving the church at the rates they are.

    As Christians we can do a lot better than to be defined by and work to defend our discrimination.

  • WHy should follow any ruling where Gorsuch is the swing vote? He occupies a stolen seat. And how have you been harmed by someone else’s marriage?

  • Basically Trump wants Evangelical churches to be able to campaign for him and endorse him from the pulpit in 2020. He doesn’t care one whit about the religious stuff – he just want their votes and money for his re-election campaign.

  • Apart from the expected rhetoric from both sides, I never cease to be amazed by the split between the official Catholic position and the assorted lay organizations of Catholicism that are continually at odds with Rome. As a former Catholic who was raised within the authoritarian construct of the Church, the mutiny by members who applaud everything Catholic except its doctrinal stances leaves me nonplussed. In the words of the comedian Jerry Lewis, “My plus has never been so non.” Such members should make their mutiny complete by abandoning ship and become Anglicans.

  • People are leaving the Church for a host of secondary reasons, but the primary reason is that they will not submit themselves to the discipline of a truly Christian life, which includes duty and obedience to God and one’s conscience, as well as charity to others. It is not a zero sum proposition.

  • Maybe this EO will end up in federal court in some fashion, but the federal court is simply a very expensive delay tactic. Trump’s previous orders will likely hold up on appeal if they reach the SCOTUS. The Johnson Amendment will NEVER survive a trip to the SCOTUS. And I said long before Obergefell, and still believe now more than ever, that the likely long-term outcome of the ssm mess would be that the SCOTUS would make ssm available (a political decision, not a constitutional one, and therefore improper, but always the most likely result) but nod to the religious liberty of those who don’t want to celebrate it or be involved. That is not a perfect solution but one where each side can get what is (presumably) most important to them and get back to the business of ordinary life, and it is plain to be seen in Kennedy’s language in the Obergefell decision itself that this is what he had in mind. The only chance the libs had for gutting religious liberty altogether was a Hillary win and an ensuing crop of rabid leftist judicial appointees, but of course that is never going to happen now.

  • Some people like to rock. Some people like to roll
    But Pope Francis likes to sit around to satisfy his soul
    He likes his women short. He like his women tall
    And that’s about the only thing Pope Francis really digs

    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    He don’t let anything boggle his mind
    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

    Some people say Francis is lazy and his life’s a wreck
    But that stuff doesn’t faze me, I get unemployment checks
    and Francis runs around in boots, drugs and booze he craves
    And that’s the way I wanna be when someone digs my grave

    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    He don’t let anything boggle his mind
    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

    Francis knew a man who worked from nine to five
    Just to pay his monthly bills was why he stayed alive
    So keep your country cottage, your house and lawn so green
    Francis wants a one-room pad where he can make the scene

    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    He don’t let anything boggle his mind
    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

  • I would tend to agree in some respects.

    But what I see in the examples given in the comment are not submission to Christ but enactment of American rights. While they may (or may not, up to the courts) have the right to act how they did, the actions are more American than Christian. To my point, people are leaving because to often individual rights and nationalistic mind set are superseding Christ like action.

  • Or not. Perhaps. In any case, I don’t find either prospect “terrifying” as the libs seem to. There are plenty of ways to work around “snowflake” nonsense. I simply would like for our government to function as it was designed to, and I think there is a better chance of this happening now than there was, say, a year ago.

  • If it was up to George and his ilk Clinton would be President and he would not have to worry about it.

  • A “stolen seat”?

    I have honestly never heard of that one. May I ask, what are you referring to?

  • They’re still steamed that Merrick Garland didn’t get the seat last year because in 1992 Crazy Joe, still smarting from the Clarence Thomas appointment, decided that a president shouldn’t get to fill a SCOTUS vacancy in an election year and the Republicans, of course, decided that would be a splendid policy for 2016.

    Those funny libs, always so sure that they’ve got eternity future in the bag. No wonder they’re having nervous breakdowns everywhere you look.

  • Perhaps, but I’m sensing a trend where people want to be Christ like in their behavior and responses without compromising deeply held beliefs on cultural and social issues that are in fact informed by a historically orthodox position on scripture. It’s a difficult balancing act.

  • From the beginning, the president has been elected by the states. It’s called the Electoral College. If you dislike this change the constitution. I rejoice in the unborn human being that will live due to the defeat of this supporter of child murder.

  • I can see the connection to what they understand as historical beliefs. it’s the way those beliefs are defenend these days that causes me pauses. seems very American, not sure it’s very Christian.

  • Exactly, Edward. But to that I would add that there is also a great deal of misapprehension of what “Christ-like” means, due to so many people having never read the gospels. Christ was certainly no PC mincer of words. if He had been, there would have been fewer people trying to throw rocks at Him or push Him off cliffs.

    We should be gentle (and I’m the one most in need of repentance on that point!) but we also need to be forthright even when it’s not culturally fashionable to be so.

  • Until Kennedy is off the bench Gorsuch will never be the swing vote. He replaced the Scalia extremist position solidly in the right wing clique.

  • Clarence Thomas didn’t really work out. After appointment he went into hibernation and still hasn’t come out. Does any justice do less on the bench than Thomas?

  • Essentially being explicit and obvious as to how Republicans have been acting all along. The whole point of making promises to Bible thumpers is to get their vote knowing their agenda has no chance of being accepted on a large scale.

  • “I rejoice in the unborn human being…”

    But you despise the born one as being a leech of your tax money and you despise the woman who had to bear it. Treating her as your chattel property without control of her body.

    So your opinion on such things means nothing to honest moral people.

  • Not so much assumption as the parts inherent to your viewpoint which are far less pleasant to discuss

  • I have long supported direct election of the President.

    Your last sentence express a rejoicing in a thing which does not exist.

  • Conservative christians have done far more for children than any atheist has ever done.

  • Sorry – but the Founding Fathers knew better and so we have the Electoral College.

  • Actually the electoral college was instituted in order to throw a bone to the South, along with the rule that slaves counted as 3/5 of a person. Since we now no longer have slavery, it’s just another anachronism. No other free country has such a system, except Great Britain’s House of Lords, which serves to check any excesses of the House of Commons, which in recent decades has been more liberal than Commons and the HoL serves to block Thatcherite excesses. Even Egypt and turkey have Parliments that are representative of the voters.

  • We are 50 states, not one mega state. If we were just one mega state you might have a point – but even then there can be a tyranny in the majority, cf ancient Greece.

    And we’ll always have an electoral college:
    “Since the Electoral College process is part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution it would be necessary to pass a Constitutional amendment to change this system.”
    And that’s not likely to happen.

  • No one can predict the future. One more election like 2016 and 2000 where the electoral college winner lost the popular vote will certainly change that. Of course, the close succession of the two last such elections with similar results, 1876 and 1884, did not change it, but they did not have social media and voting was highly limited, too.

    It is possible you are right but if you are I suspect the United States as a nation will be finished in part because the oligarchy and plutocracy which resulted from the 2000 and 2016 elections will work toward the disillusion of the country.

    Under the present system I read how the vote of a voter from Wyoming is equivalent to 347 times the vote of a Californian. Such a system is untenable. With the exception of Texas and Georgia states that have been reliably red are not economically viable and a drain on the rest.

    “Tyranny of the Majority” is just a whine that the writer fears justice because he is engaged in perpetrating injustice. Your pattern of posting indicates you are a committed advocate of injustice. As such you will not prevail.

  • You said no one can predict the future – and then you did. LOL. Oh, and please tell African Americans or Native Americans to stop their incessant whining about majority white privilege.

    And your pattern of posting indicates you are indeed a committed whiner. As such…how about some cheese with that whine.

  • I think Jesus was PC. The best definition I’ve every heard of PC is “treating people with respect. The only time I’ve seen someone argue that PCness is holding them back it’s from saying something rude, hurtful, demeaning, racist, derogatory, etc.

    Jesus was direct and honest, especially with the religious folks of his day. But I don’t see him as one against treating people with respect.

  • I posted an exposition of possibilities; I made no assertions of sure things as you did, Nostradamus. Whining tends to mean irritating complaining.. Identifying reality and positing several alternative and mutually exclusive scenarios is anything but. Additionally other policy alternatives are available:

    California could split into ten states, each with two Senators, , Illinois seven, Minnesota two, and so on. Sure, Texas could go for nine-but of new states requires a bill of both houses of Congress. Moreover recent SCOTUS decisions vastly curtail gerrymandering. Not likely, now, sure. . But after a second Gorsuch?

    Change to a parliamentary system where the majority party leader n Congress becomes the President.

    Add curtailment of the right to vote to the Lautenberg Amendment.

    A few arrests of racketeering homegrown terrorists, who have attacked more than any Islamic fundie cell. White racist groups are terrorists.

    A few indictments for coordination between campaigns, parties, and third party groups would stop a lot of things.

    Future “Brooks Brothers Riots” curtailed by National Guard deployments.

    I’m sure there’s many more.

  • Well, I didn’t predict either – just made an assumption based on the past 240 years. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet and who knows what will happen in the future. One thing is for darn sure: I haven’t seen this much acrimony and pure hatred among people over politics in my 65 years of being on this earth. Use to be you could argue politics and then go out for a beer and forget it – no more. People take this stuff seriously to the point that if you don’t agree with them you will not be friends. And if I were a betting man I’d say if it continues something is going to snap eventually.
    And you may be correct about those states splitting apart to form new states – but we will still, as a country, have the same problems.

    So what would be better: to have a country that is at a cold war within itself constantly bickering and fighting for political power or a two countries that go their separate ways?

  • Somebody had a commentary I read earlier about the Supreme court nomination fights. I forgot who it was or where it was, sorry, but —oh, wait, found it: it was New York Times, “David Souter killed the fillibuster.” Sorry, can’t link – dang capitalists disabled copy function. Essentially it was this – Souter was sold to George H.W. Bush as a sure thing by John Sununu and Warren Rudman because he had no paper trail. He was confirmed with only 9 Democrats against. But once on the Court he began to vote like a standard liberal. Because Souter and to a lesser extent Anthony Kennedy sided with liberals, the right was denied what they wanted most, a reversal of Roe and other social issue victories. This intensified them. Of course, this sort of thing happened before: Kennedy nominated Byron White who became reliably conservative, and Nixon nominees Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell sometimes came off the reservation. But Souter turning out to be not what he expected, Robert Bork’s rejection, etc., intensified right-wing angst. The Times writer essentially said without Souter there’d have been no Trump victory (but who can say for sure?).

    So, in answer to your question, I’d definitely be in favor of splitting the country, as well as the United Methodist Church, except for one thing: concern for the children who would grow up under christofascist rule. We could build walls at the Potomac River and down the Sierra Nevada-Cascades Ranges, but refugees would keep pouring in. Better we keep fighting for what is right.

  • I agree totally while confessing it’s indeed difficult to be forthright or admonitory in a way that will ensure the recipient receives as a gentle remonstrance.

  • PC has nothing to do with people but with ideas. The best definition of PC I’ve ever heard is “treating every viewpoint as equally valid.” There is no way to square that with the gospel.

  • I suspect that is the issue. PC is all about people. All the ideas and language are about people. They aren’t an idea, but real people with lives and families being told they don’t matter. their experiences, pain, achievements, are at best less than when we see those people as ideas.

  • That’s not what I hear when liberals and atheists tell me “People have rights, ideas don’t.” And “You have the right to speak, but not to have your words respected.” And so on.

  • I think that’s consistent. My point is that more often then not when I hear complaints about PCness its about people not ideas and those people have rights and deserve to be treated as a person. It’s the difference between saying “poor people are lazy” and “I don’t like our social support system” people vs ideas

  • At least the children would have a chance to grow up – rather than be aborted by liberals.
    And while we’re at it build walls around the liberal playgrounds of Detroit, Chicago, New York, etc. too. Those are definitely liberal success stories that we can all be proud of. “Build the walls, build the walls, build the walls, etc.”

  • Actually more abortions per capita are obtained by women from fundamentalist sects and conservative Catholic families than from liberal Protestant, atheist, and Jewish women. Your kind has a habit of shaming those for whom pregnancy outside marriage becomes evident – having given birth is conclusive evidence of same – so they’d rather hide it from you wowsers. I’d prefer to live in Detroit than rural Tennessee any day. Great City. Don’t believe the hype, Gabacho.


    “Your kind,” the Kangaroo shrieked, “has a habit of shaming those for whom pregnancy outside marriage becomes evident…”
    Kangaroo stood defiantly facing Dirty Harry, his little pudgy hands trembling, his double chin jutting upward in defiance of Harry.
    “What do you mean, ‘Your kind,'” Dirty Harry asked?
    “You – you – you know what I mean! Don’t pretend you don’t,” Kangaroo shrieked again. “Your – Kind! You – you Wowsers! You know what I mean. Don’t deny it!”
    “Well, that is no excuse to fly into irrational vaporings, Roo.”
    “And y-y-your not my boss. And you can’t tell me how to live my life!”
    Harry stared at Roo. “Are you okay Roo?”
    “Oh, sure, you stand there with your smug look on your face…and…and…all the while you think you know so much.”
    “Well, Roo, I do know this: a man’s got to know his limitations. You’re simply having an anxiety attack probably brought on by liberal reasoning. Let’s call your case manager – ”
    “Can’t. She’s not here.”
    “Where is she?”
    “In Detroit.”
    “Well, I’ll just take you there and – ”
    “Noooooooo…not Detroit….anywhere, but not Detroit! Tennessee! I’ll go to Tennessee, yeah that’s where I want to go:

    When it’s Iris time down in Tennessee,
    I’ll be coming back to stay
    Where the mockingbird sings at the break of day
    A lilting love song gay
    Where the Iris grows,
    Where the Harpeth flows,
    That is where I long to be
    There’s a picture there that lives in memory
    When it’s Iris time in Tennessee

    “Yep, liberalism is a mental disorder. And you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket either.”

  • Hey Bully. – Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. Take a hike jr.

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