President Donald Trump on May 2 unveiled two new initiatives that will allow people to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against others.
Speaking during a White House ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer, Trump announced a new rule giving health care workers the right to cite their religious beliefs to deny care to patients. He also 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.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the new Denial of Care Rule that same day. A new foster care rule hasn’t yet been issued, but the administration has already 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. (Americans United is suing over the matter, representing Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic mom who was turned away from a taxpayer-funded evangelical Protestant child-placement agency solely because of her religious beliefs.)
“This is the Trump administration’s most dangerous attempt yet to weaponize religious freedom, and we won’t stand for it,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, in a statement to the media. “The Denial of Care Rule condones discrimination by health care workers – our trusted medical professionals on whom we rely in our most vulnerable moments.”
Continued Laser, “It is clear that women, LGBTQ people and religious minorities are the intended targets, but it doesn’t stop there. The rule is so broad that everyone – including sick children, pregnant women and senior citizens – is at risk. It is un-American for the Trump administration to authorize medical professionals to circumvent our shared secular values to deny patients lifesaving medical care. We are prepared to take any action possible to challenge this unconscionable rule and protect true religious freedom in America.”
The same day the rule was issued, Dennis Herrera, city attorney for San Francisco, announced that his office was filing a lawsuit to block it. Other lawsuits are also expected.
Trump addressed other issues during the prayer-day ceremony, which was attended by his Religious Right allies, clergy and cabinet members. 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, and 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, which is also untrue. In addition, he claimed that his administration has been protecting faith communities and even listed some examples of the devastating violence that has been directed at houses of worship and people of certain faiths in recent months – but Trump failed to acknowledge that his own xenophobic rhetoric has emboldened white Christian nationalists, neo-Nazis and racists who threaten religious freedom.