U.S. President Donald Trump prays during the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2 in Washington. CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

U.S. bishops urge Trump to protect religious freedom

By 
  • February 8, 2017

WASHINGTON – Saying “religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion,” U.S. Catholic bishops have posted an online letter for Catholics to send to President Donald Trump urging him to sign an executive order promoting religious freedom.

The letter says the president can “restore the federal government’s respect for the religious freedom of individuals and organizations” with an executive order that establishes a “government-wide initiative to respect religious freedom.”

A leaked draft version of a potential religious freedom order was circulating in the media and among federal staff and advocacy groups at the end of January. When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the draft Jan. 30, he said he would not get “ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue.” He noted there have been a lot of executive actions and “a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.”

Although Spicer did not elaborate on the leaked document, he told reporters that freedom of religion in the U.S. should mean “people should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal.”

“And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way in the name of political correctness,” he added.

The four-page draft has raised concerns among those who said it would legalize discrimination and was too far-reaching, but University of Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett said in an email to Catholic News Service that the “critics are dramatically overstating” what the order can do.

The draft states that “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the federal government into participating in activities that violate their consciences.” It also notes that people and organizations do not “forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education or health care.”

The U.S. bishops, who have made religious liberty a priority, have not released a statement on potential executive action on religious freedom by Trump. But their online letter available for Catholics to sign stressed that such an order should include: exemptions for religious employers from providing coverage for birth control; preservation of tax-exempt status for nonprofit groups that hold beliefs based on marriage and human sexuality; the right to to act according to beliefs regarding marriage, human sexuality and the protection of human life at all stages; and the right for child welfare providers to provide adoption, foster or family support services according their religious beliefs.

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