Now that the federal government is up and running again, the fundamentalist religious activists within it are back to work, too.
Anti-abortion activists who oppose transgender rights are strategically placed inside Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services and they are working overtime to impose their religious ideals on a government that is intended to be secular. They are blurring the line between separation of church and state, and taking their own staff members by surprise, according to POLITICO.
Those officials include Roger Severino, an anti-abortion lawyer who now runs the Office of Civil Rights and last week laid out new protections allowing health care workers with religious or moral objections to abortion and other procedures to opt out. Shannon Royce, the agency’s key liaison with religious and grass-roots organizations, has also emerged as a pivotal player.
“To have leaders like Roger, like Shannon, it’s so important,” said Deanna Wallace of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that was frequently at odds with the Obama administration. “It’s extremely encouraging to have HHS on our side this time.”
But inside HHS, staff say that those leaders are steering their offices to support evangelicals at the expense of other voices, such as a recent decision to selectively post public comments that were overwhelmingly anti-abortion. “It’s supposed to be the faith-based partnership center, not the Christian-based partnership center,” said a longtime HHS staffer, referencing the HHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships led by Royce.
Trump’s gifts to that group come at the expense of his promise to be a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. Time after time, Trump has degraded transgender people, first by attempting to ban them from the military and then by limiting their access to needed therapies.
The agency’s devout Christian leaders have set in motion changes with short-term symbolism and long-term significance. One of those moves — a vast outreach initiative to religious groups spearheaded by Royce, asking how to serve them better — came in October 2017…
That outreach initiative began a rulemaking process that could culminate in a rollback of Obama-era protections for transgender patients and allowing health providers more protections to deny procedures like abortion. It worried abortion rights and LGBT advocates, who acknowledge that while abortion laws and other regulations remain mostly intact, the groundwork is steadily being laid to revise them.
“This administration is focused on recognizing one set of religious beliefs,” said Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center. “It’s going to do whatever it can to reshape or violate the law to do that.”
By letting evangelical activists decide who gets access to health care, Trump is permitting discrimination by the most vocal people in his base. If the roles were flipped, there’s no doubt Christians would be calling this “persecution.” So when are they going to start defending everyone else’s religious freedoms?
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