Trump Champions Religious Liberty for Students and Organizations
Last January 16, the White House Office issued through its official site President Donald Trump’s program and guidelines which aims to safeguard the rights of religious students and organizations to express their faith duly protected by their First Amendment Rights under the “Free Exercise Clause”.
In a statement, Trump acknowledged the fundamental right. He said, “Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”
Religious liberty had been on the forefront of many US Supreme Court landmark cases such as Engel v. Vitale in 1962 which tackled the nature of institutional prayer (opening prayer in New York public schools) and was ultimately ruled as a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as it is an “unconstitutional sponsorship of religion”.
Moreover, the amendment is often used “to keep religion out of government spaces such as public schools, libraries, and courtrooms.” While personal expressions of faith and individual prayers are not deemed to be unconstitutional, there still seems to be a stigmatized view about it.
An executive order (EO) on religious liberty which provided new guidance regarding prayer in public schools signed by Trump had earned praises from religious organizations. Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, told Fox News, that this EO is “is “the beginning of the end of the war on faith.”
He also added, “I don’t think it’s any exaggeration at all to say, ‘No president in history has been a greater champion for religious liberty both in America and around the world than President Donald Trump.”
In an article published by Fox News, it said that “Trump said public schools too often stop students from praying and sharing their faith.” He also added that the government must “never stand between the people and God.”
“It is totally unacceptable,” Trump said. “You see it on the football field. You see it so many times where they are stopped from praying and we are doing something to stop that.”
Aside from this, the Trump administration also released proposed rules across nine federal agencies – Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and International Development – to ensure that the federal government does not step in to discriminate against religious organizations.
Furthermore, the White House Office of Management and Budget will also “direct federal agencies to ensure states and other recipients of federal grants don’t engage in religious discrimination.”
This is following Trump’s active promotion of equal treatment and commitment aimed to even the playing field for faith-based groups seeking federal grants.
“The proposed rules would eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations,” he said during an Oval Office event on National Religious Freedom Day.
The pertained “burdensome” requirements include notice from faith-based service providers that they are religiously affiliated. Additionally, they are required to produce an available list of alternative secular service providers.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia in a statement about Trump’s proposed rules, said that, “Our nation has a proud heritage of religious freedom, and of religious institutions providing care and support to the poor and needy. Religious organizations that receive federal grants may provide aid to the needy without posting a warning label regarding their faith.”
Trump supporters as well as those who also actively advocate the proposed guidelines cited the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer which the “justices ruled Missouri had wrongly determined the church as a religious entity could not receive public funds for a playground used by students no matter their religion,” according to an article by Catholic Philly.
In a proclamation last January 16, Trump had listed the achievements of his administration in championing and safeguarding religious liberty. He stated,
“Since I took office, my Administration has been committed to protecting religious liberty. In May 2017, I signed an Executive Order to advance religious freedom for individuals and institutions, and I stopped the Johnson Amendment from interfering with pastors’ right to speak their minds.
Over the last 3 years, the Department of Justice has obtained 14 convictions in cases involving attacks or threats against places of worship. To fight the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, I signed an Executive Order last month to ensure that Federal agencies are using nondiscrimination authorities to combat this venomous bigotry. I have also made clear that my Administration will not tolerate the violation of any American’s ability to worship freely and openly and to live as his or her faith commands.”
He also emphasized the works and efforts of his administration to make the protection of religious minorities “a core pillar of the Administration’s foreign policy.”