President Joe Biden has been in office for 100 days. While that’s something of an arbitrary number, it’s traditionally the point where lots of people step back and ask, “So, how’s it going so far?”
So, how is it going when it comes to church-state separation? Very good overall. Here are five areas where Biden has made a real difference, along with some next steps we hope Congress and his administration will take to continue restoring and protecting religious freedom:
Biden axed the Muslim and African Bans: During the campaign, Biden promised to get rid of Donald Trump’s discriminatory Muslim and African Bans, which barred people from coming into America simply because Trump and white Christian nationalists dislike Muslims and immigrants of color. Discriminating against people because of their religion or nationality imposed a high cost on families and our country and violated religious freedom. Biden issued an executive order reversing the policy on his first day in office. (Next step: The NO BAN Act, which passed the House earlier this month, will make sure a future president couldn’t reinstate the bans.)
Biden ended policies that harm LGBTQ people: To keep his Christian nationalist base happy, Trump issued a number of orders and regulatory changes that discriminated against members of the LGBTQ community. Biden replaced these with a sweeping order that encapsulates what have been called the most far-reaching federal protections for members of the LGBTQ community to date. Notably, the ban on transgender troops in the military, which leaders of the Armed Forces never supported, is no more. (Next step: Passage of the Equality Act and the Do No Harm Act will give LGBTQ folks much-needed, comprehensive protections.)
Biden reformed the White House “faith-based” office: Trump put Paula White, a “prosperity gospel” TV preacher, in charge of his faith-based office even though she was unqualified for the job. Under Trump, the office’s focus was almost exclusively on pandering to conservative evangelicals. Biden named Melissa Rogers, an esteemed scholar and author who respects church-state separation, to head the partnership office. Rogers promises to embrace our country’s diversity – including the secular community – in her work. A White House fact sheet announcing her appointment read, “When Methodists and Muslims, Buddhists and Baptists, Sikhs and Secular Humanists serve together, we strengthen one another and we strengthen America.” (Next step: The Biden administration must implement robust religious-freedom protections for people seeking taxpayer-funded services.)
Biden policies elevate science over religious dogma: Under Biden, decisions about scientific and medical matters are being made by the people best able to make them: scientific and medical experts. Trump-era policies that all but banned fetal tissue research and denied federal money to groups that provide or refer patients for abortions have been rolled back. (Next step: Revoke Trump rules that invited health care providers to deny medical care and allowed employers and universities to deny workers and students access to birth control, all based on religious beliefs.)
Biden ended Trump’s attempt to rewrite American history: During the waning days of the Trump administration, a band of right-wing historical revisionists that Trump called the 1776 Commission produced a report designed to give aid and comfort to the “Christian nation” crowd. Trump wanted the commission’s report – a skimpy 41-page document lacking footnotes – to be the basis for a new social studies curriculum. That’s not going to happen. Biden disbanded the commission and consigned the report to where it always belonged: a trash bin.
We can be thankful for other things: The religious extremists who swarmed around the Trump White House like flies have been sent packing, Biden’s Twitter account isn’t an international embarrassment and it’s highly unlikely Biden will ever incite a riot leading to loss of life and an assault on the Capitol. There’s a certain air of stability and even tedium in the Biden White House. It’s a relief after four years of Trump’s manic ride on a careening rollercoaster.
But even as we breathe a sigh of relief, let’s not forget that we have a lot of work to do. The new direction in the White House is welcome, but the religious extremists are still smarting over Trump’s loss and dreaming up new schemes to undermine church-state separation.
With your help, Americans United will be there to meet them each and every time.
(Photo credit: C-SPAN screenshot of President Biden's address to the joint Congress.)