As Americans United suspected, President Donald Trump used today’s observance of the National Day of Prayer to unveil two new initiatives that are likely to be very harmful.
Trump announced a new rule giving health care workers the right to cite their religious beliefs to deny care to patients and said his administration will take steps to ensure that faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that receive taxpayer funding can turn away anyone who fails to meet their religious test.
As I noted yesterday, this new denial of care rule is likely to fall hard on members of the LGBTQ community, but others – women seeking reproductive care, single moms, non-Christians, non-theists, etc. – could easily take a hit as well. Anyone could be at risk. Basically, what the Trump administration wants to do is give people the right to use their religion as a vehicle to discriminate and deny services to others, including medical care. Under these rules, your rights – and perhaps even your life – may hinge on someone else’s faith.
HHS has already released the new denial of care rule. Americans United’s legal and public policy teams are analyzing it. You’ll hear more from us on this rule soon.
Trump’s administration already has empowered taxpayer-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina to discriminate against prospective parents and volunteers who want to help children in need of loving families. AU’s client, Aimee Maddonna, has already been a victim of this discrimination when an evangelical Christian agency turned her away solely because she’s Catholic – the “wrong” kind of Christian for Miracle Hill Ministries. AU is suing on Aimee’s behalf to put an end to this practice that puts the religious beliefs of agencies ahead of the best interests of children.
You can call these policies lots of things, but it’s certainly not religious freedom. Religious freedom is a treasured right of the American people, but it bestows no power on a person to discriminate against others or treat them as second class.
Americans United is not about to let the Trump administration and its Religious Right allies subject Americans to oppressive and dangerous forms of discrimination, especially under the guise of the noble principle of religious freedom.
The balance of Trump’s remarks consisted of his usual mix of falsehoods and braggodocio. Trump claimed that he made it possible for houses of worship “to speak your mind” by repealing the Johnson Amendment, which protects the integrity of tax-exempt, nonprofit groups, including houses of worship, by ensuring they don’t intervene in partisan politics by endorsing or opposing candidates. Trump claims this frequently, but it’s not true. The Johnson Amendment remains the law.
Trump also asserted that people were afraid to say “Merry Christmas” before he took office, but now that’s changed – another lie. Trump also claimed that his administration was protecting faith communities, but then enumerated a few examples of the devastating violence that has been directed at houses of worship and people of certain faiths in recent months. Trump failed to acknowledge that his own xenophobic rhetoric has emboldened white Christian nationalists, neo-Nazis and racists who threaten religious freedom.
In short, it was another lousy day for religious freedom at the White House.