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President Trump’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty: A Missed Opportunity?

By Rev. Robert A. Crutchfield, Founder FaithInspires.Org

This afternoon President Trump leveraged off the National Day of Prayer to sign a much anticipated Executive Order expanding and expressing support for religious freedom. Many Christian leaders welcomed his action as signaling a welcome change in the Washington mindset, or at least a step in the right direction.

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel had this reaction “We commend President Trump for sending a message to Congress and the rest of America that religious freedom must be protected. This is an appropriate way to commemorate the National Day of Prayer as our President commits to protect and promote religious freedom,”

Meanwhile Carl Anderson CEO of the Knights of Columbus had this to say, “We applaud President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty. While there is still work to be done to restore the reverence for religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment, this order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American. Guided by their beliefs, people of faith contribute in important ways to every aspect of this country, and this order will begin to restore the principles upon which this country was based: that people of faith should be able to exercise that faith with the protection rather than the opposition of their government.”

A leding Hispanic Evangelical added, “This new executive order not only signals President Trump and Vice President Pence’s commitment to fighting for and representing the Evangelical community, but also the larger struggle for religious liberty. For years now, people of faith—especially Christians—have been essentially told that their faith has no place beyond their front door. A subversive oppression has taken a hold of our nation and sincerely held beliefs are subject to not only social ridicule but also legal retribution.” Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez President National Hispanic Christian  Leadership Conference.

Today’s executive order among other things provided relief from the so called Johnson Amendment. This provision enacted in the 1960’s greatly restricted endorsements of political candidates by non-profit groups including churches. This has been a very unpopular provision among evangelical Christians and others since. So rolling it back even if by a bit will meet with at least some pleasure among those groups.

But will it be enough. An earlier draft of the executive order would have provided a much wider range of protections. Especially for average Christians ( as opposed to clergy, churches and ministries.) who acted or refused to act out of religious conscience. From what I can gather it was Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump that convinced the president to leave these additional protections out of the EO. Over time I fear this will be seen as the loss of an opportunity to cement the president’s relationship with a core part of his winning coalition.

My personal opinion is that as time passes today’s order will be seen as doing very little to advance the wishes of evangelical Christians, and will have done much more to anger those on the left. The result will be to leave us father from common ground on some issues not closer. For someone who sees himself as a master negotiator, this move seems like more of a weak compromise than anything else. Evangelicals are growing tired of weak compromises and disappointments. Today’s executive order may cost the administration more than it gains.