100 Days In, Trump’s Chipping Away At Religious Freedom

Tomorrow is President Donald J. Trump’s 100th day in office. Although he campaigned on his 100-day “Contract with the American Voter,” he no longer seems enthusiastic about the milestone. Perhaps that’s because he is facing criticism for failing to achieve any major legislative victories. One thing he has accomplished: He has caused real harm to religious freedom and has made promises to do even more.

Here are five things he’s done that you should know about – and how we’ve been fighting back:

1. The Muslim Ban

What he did: On the campaign trail, Trump promised a “Muslim ban” even though it’s unconstitutional and un-American to single out anyone for discrimination because of their religious beliefs. Within a week of taking office, he delivered by signing a hastily drafted executive order barring people from coming to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries. Almost immediately, federal courts blocked the unconstitutional ban. Then he signed a second executive order that had the same problem as the first: It singled out Muslims for disfavor based solely on their religion. Although the order remains blocked, it has still caused real harm, including that its anti-Muslim sentiment has led to a further rise in hate crimes.

What we’re doing: AU fought back against the ban in the courts and in Congress from day one. We filed numerous legal briefs in the lawsuits that challenged – and, so far, have successfully blocked – both Muslim ban executive orders. We also filed our own case, UMAA v. Trump, which focuses on how the ban harms the American Muslim community. In Congress, we were an original supporter of the Freedom of Religion Act and we led an effort to ensure a congressional hearing on religious freedom addressed the ban. AU has also joined rallies and hosted a discussion about how non-Muslims can be allies to their Muslim neighbors.

2. Promoting Private-School Voucher Schemes

What he did: In Trump’s 100-day “Contract,” he promised to introduce a private-school voucher program called the “School Choice and Education Act.” We haven’t seen his bill yet, but he has taken many other steps toward his goal of privatizing public education. First, he placed voucher-proponent Betsy DeVos at the helm of the Department of Education. During his joint address to Congress and his visit to a religious school where many students use vouchers, Trump touted tuition tax credits, a type of voucher. And in his preliminary “skinny” budget, he proposes to funnel $250 million into a private-school voucher program.

What we’re doing: AU, along with the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), which we co-chair, organized an onslaught of meetings on Capitol Hill to explain why vouchers are bad education policy. We’re already in the midst of the first voucher fight in the Trump administration and we’re ready for any possible proposal among the ever-expanding variety of vouchers. But we need your help too: Learn more about the voucher schemes and take action to urge your state and federal lawmakers to oppose any voucher bill.

During his first 100 days in office, President Donald J. Trump has caused real harm to religious freedom. 

3. Rolling Back Rights For Women And LGBTQ Americans

What he did: The Trump Administration has already rescinded federal guidance for public schools about civil rights protections for transgender students and restricted access to health care, especially for women, by signing legislation aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood and re-imposing the global gag rule that bars non-U.S. organizations that even discuss abortions from receiving U.S. foreign aid. In addition, Trump could still be considering a strikingly broad draft executive order that surfaced during his second week in office. The order would allow religion to be used as justification to discriminate in hiring, public services and benefits, health care, adoption and foster-care services, education and more. It targets LGBTQ people and women, but would also affect those of minority faiths, non-theists and almost anyone else.

What we’re doing: Even though Trump hasn’t signed the draft executive order, we’ve already begun our fight against it, including by filing FOIA information requests with eight federal agencies and raising it at a congressional hearing. We’ve also made it easy for you to urge Trump not to sign it. Our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign to ensure religion isn’t used as an excuse to discriminate is more important than ever: For example, in the last few weeks we’ve filed legal briefs on behalf of Gavin Grimm and Aimee Stephens, transgender individuals fighting discrimination.

4. Turning Houses Of Worship Into Political Action Committees

What he did: During the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump doubled down on a campaign promise and said he’d “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment – the more than 60-year-old tax law that protects the integrity and independence of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose political candidates. Numerous polls show that the majority of Americans don’t want their houses of worship to endorse candidates. Nonetheless, some Republicans in Congress have said they want to include its repeal in legislation to revamp the tax code, which is one the next major items on their agenda.

What we’re doing: AU has been fighting efforts to repeal and weaken the Johnson Amendment since 1996 when we established Project Fair Play. In response to Trump’s proposal, we joined nearly 4,500 non-profits to urge lawmakers to maintain the current law. We helped to organize a letter from 99 religious and denominational organizations in support of the Johnson Amendment. And we’re on Capitol Hill, educating Senators and Representatives about the broad support for the law. You can learn more about why keeping the Johnson Amendment in place is key, and let your legislators know you oppose any repeal or weakening of the current law.

5. Putting People In Power Who Don’t Respect Church-State Separation

What he did: DeVos is not the only Trump appointee with a troubling view of religious freedom. Perhaps the most alarming and potentially long-lasting is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who soon will help to decide the crucial Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer case as well as the Muslim ban challenges that are expected to reach the high court. Other concerning picks include U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has disparaged church-state separation, and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tom Price, who has supported restricting access to birth control and health care in the name of religion.

What we’re doing: We worked with allies to oppose these nominations, combing through their records and educating Senators and AU supporters about the danger these Trump picks posed to religious freedom. The work of a broad coalition and our supporters nearly scuttled DeVos’ confirmation, which required an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. Although she was confirmed, people across the country are ready to stop the bad policies she will push as Secretary of Education.

Those are just a few ways Trump and his administration have threatened religious freedom in their first 100 days in office. We’ve got about 1,360 days to go, and we could use your help. Visit au.org for ways to get involved in the fight to maintain the wall of separation between church and state.