Mr. President, Keep Keeping Your Religious Liberty Promises
President Trump cares about keeping his word; he said so himself. During the first seven weeks of his presidency, he has begun fulfilling many of his promises made on the campaign trail.
But there is one promise that I urge President Trump to fulfill immediately. It’s not a difficult promise to keep: protect religious liberty.
During the campaign, I publicly asked President Trump how he and his administration would protect religious freedom and expression in the military.
His response emphasized the importance of protecting religious liberty and free speech. Afterwards, President Trump’s campaign contacted me with an additional statement, affirming that religious freedom is “under attack” in the military, “just as it is across our society.”
He went on: “My Defense Secretary and I will never treat religious expression, whether by a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh or any other faith, as a threat; rather, we will honor religious tolerance and expression as something our soldiers risk their lives for and deserve as much as any other citizen.”
The concluding promise was strong: “This is about making sure our soldiers, airmen, and Marines are never punished for their faith. And when I’m Commander-in-Chief, they never will be.”
I’m certainly not the only one who received promises regarding religious liberty. Vice President Pence promised Members of Congress last December that the new administration would take executive action to strengthen religious protections for military contractors, as well as other contractors. Members relied on this promise when they removed crucial protections for religious organizations known as the Russell Amendment from the Defense Authorization bill, and Members expressed from the House floor their expectation that President Trump would address these concerns.
I have written before on some of the challenges to religious liberty that directly affect our men and women in uniform and their families. When service members are deployed, support systems must be deployed with them.
For example, commissaries are provided so they can shop for food and personal needs. Medical services are provided. Nutrition needs like halal and kosher meals, necessitated by religion, are supported. And chaplains are deployed with units to ensure someone is overseeing spiritual care.
When service members are accompanied by their families, these support systems expand to family needs, such as childcare and schools.
The military frequently provides these services through contractors. Contractors sometimes must go to dangerous places and don’t be fooled, the competition to fulfill these needs is often sparse. Many of these contractors are religious organizations providing vital services to spouses and children who are far from the familial and social support systems that the average person takes for granted.
And yet, because common-sense protections for religious organizations have so far not been enacted by Congress, these religious-based contractors are unable to continue providing vital services. This is a direct result of the ambiguous way in which Obama-era policies have been enacted.
The people who suffer as a result are not the contractors, but the service members, spouses, and children who were benefitting from these ministries. Everyone should be able to agree this is wrong.
Sadly, this is not a narrative unique to the military. Many other groups have suffered setbacks to their ability to live by their faith, and even lengthy legal battles, as a result of policies and regulations by the Obama administration.
Ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns who devote their lives to affirming fundamental human dignity by caring for the elderly poor who have nowhere else to go, have had to expend great amounts of time and energy simply to secure religious rights that should have been unquestioned.
President Obama’s own Solicitor General admitted before the United States Supreme Court that the tax-exempt status of religious organizations who hold to certain ancient and orthodox religious beliefs could be jeopardized—an argument which some have theorized helped propel President Trump to victory. I could go on at length.
With his campaign statements, President Trump acknowledged that religious freedom is a fundamental right that must be protected for people of all faiths across all of American life. The American people have made amply clear they are tired of playing political games with religious freedom. President Trump must recognize and protect these important religious liberties by issuing the executive order his administration promised would address these issues.
The time for President Trump to proactively protect religious liberty, in the military and far beyond, is now. Every day we wait is another day of loss—we cannot afford to wait any longer.