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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.

Good News for the Good News Club: Child Evangelism Fellowship Wins Legal Victory in Minneapolis

Child Evangelism Fellowship

Child Evangelism Fellowship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Aug. 31, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ — Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 must reinstate the Good News Club, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, in its after-school program, ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit yesterday. The federal appeals court determined that the school district engaged in viewpoint discrimination when it ousted CEF for offering “enrichment programming from a religious perspective.”

“We are extremely grateful for this decision and look forward to the opportunity of serving interested students at the Jenny Lind Elementary School,” said Mr. Tom Levanos, executive director of operations for CEF.

This ruling overturned the decision by a lower court which misinterpreted the 2001 Supreme Court decision in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The Supreme Court decision actually upheld the free speech rights of the Good News Club. According to the Court, “there is no logical difference in kind between the invocation of Christianity by the Club and the invocation of teamwork, loyalty, or patriotism by other associations to provide the foundations for their lessons.”

Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 removed the GNC from its after-school program in 2009 based on the concerns of a newly-hired site coordinator who overheard a prayer and reference to Jesus Christ during a GNC meeting. The GNC had been meeting at the school, after school hours, using the same activities of prayer, Bible lessons and games, without objection since 2000. As a result of the school district decision, the attendance at the popular GNC plummeted from 47 students to 5 by 2010.

Through the years, the number of court cases involving discrimination against GNCs has steadily decreased as the Supreme Court ruling has become more well-known, said Mr. Matt Staver, of Liberty Counsel, who represented CEF before the federal appeals court. Still, there are challenges each week that are resolved without litigation. Few of these challenges bear the marks of overt hostility towards religion. According to Mr. Staver, most cases are the result of misinformation about the First Amendment and are usually resolved without litigation. When litigation has been necessary, Liberty Counsel has won every case.