Earlier this month, when Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing a new “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” critics knew it would be another blow to religious freedom… at least to everyone who isn’t an evangelical Christian.
While we didn’t know many details about what the new office would look like, the mission is now coming into focus, and one of the people raising all kinds of red flags is Melissa Rogers, the attorney who ran this very office under President Obama.
Keep in mind that Rogers was always on the side of church/state separation. When she ran the office, her staff met with the Secular Coalition for America, invited atheists to a discussion about “interfaith and community service programming on campus,” and pushed for a policy preventing groups receiving grants from preaching while using taxpayer funds.
So her words carry a lot of weight. She’s been there before and she understand what critics have said about the office. And now she’s one of them. In an essay for the Washington Post, Rogers says the Trump version of the office actually weakens religious freedom for two key reasons.
The first involves a fairly straightforward policy choice that involves the people who benefitted from the office. As Rogers puts it, if you were, for example, a Catholic victim of human trafficking, and the religious organization receiving federal funding to help you out was evangelical in nature, but you feared that not attending their Bible studies would block you from getting the help you need, then the government made sure you could receive help from another comparable organization. Not only that, the evangelical group knew that was an option, and they had to let you know that was an option.
What does Trump do with that sensible policy? He makes sure people receiving help are never told about the alternative providers.
Why? Only two justifications have emerged. First, it’s not a good use of the groups’ time to refer beneficiaries to other groups. The other is that some religious groups might not want to refer people to groups whose beliefs violate their own — like an anti-abortion clinic refusing to tell women about the Planned Parenthood nearby that could help them out.
What the federal government should not do… is remove protections for the religious liberties of countless Americans (in this case, social service beneficiaries) because of the slight possibility that a religious organization might one day have to successfully raise an objection to a referral.
Removing religious liberty protections in the name of religious freedom taints the cause.
She’s absolutely right.
Unfortunately, she’s not in charge. It’s the people who constantly scream “religious freedom” who are in power, and they’re doing everything they can to make sure they can impose their beliefs upon everyone they meet. Even if it’s not in the patients’ best interests.
All the more reason the government should just shut down this office completely. We don’t need another vehicle for evangelicals to preach with taxpayer help.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)