Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

President Trump, Be Advised: Religious Freedom Is Not Negotiable

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There’s no doubt President Donald Trump knows how to get what he wants in a deal — he literally wrote the book on deal-making. So let’s hope he understands that religious freedom is a complete non-negotiable.

Some of us may have hoped that, by merely electing Trump, his very presence in the White House would automatically shift the tide on religious freedom, ensuring that people could confidently practice their faith in the public square without fear of government retribution. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case — at least not yet. For President Trump to reverse a disturbing trend of federal agencies persecuting people of faith, it will take an executive order demanding that religious freedom be respected.

A leaked draft of a potential Trump executive order on religious freedom, obtained in early February by the left-leaning The Nation, appeared to be promising:

The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

Scare quotes aside, this would be huge, if true. But weeks later, that “draft order” is still sitting on a desk somewhere. Until President Trump acts, innocent people of faith will continue to be targeted by an over-zealous bureaucracy.

Consider the case of Donald and Ellen Vander Boon, whose private business, the West Michigan Beef Company, was essentially shut down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of a bureaucrat’s objection to the Vander Boons’ religious beliefs.

As The Daily Signal reports:

In 2015, Dr. Ryan Lundquist, the USDA site inspector for West Michigan Beef Company, found a religious tract about marriage that Donald Vander Boon placed on the break room table of the family-owned business, according to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom.

Lundquist took the article and reported it to Robert Becker, the USDA frontline supervisor, and Lundquist and Becker held a meeting with Vander Boon, “at which Becker threatened three times to remove USDA inspectors if Vander Boon didn’t agree to refrain from placing the article in the break room,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

Karnail S. Mudahar, USDA deputy district manager, said Vander Boon violated a new “anti-harassment” policy that forbids written or spoken communications that USDA executives determine to be “disrespectful” or “insult[ing]” in regards to sexual orientation.

Vander Boon has filed a complaint with the USDA.

“The USDA threatened to remove its inspectors if Mr. Vander Boon continued to express his religious beliefs about marriage,” Tedesco, of Alliance Defending Freedom, said. “Meatpacking facilities cannot operate without inspectors present and monitoring operations to ensure food safety. The USDA’s threat has never been lifted.”

Under President Obama, the U.S. federal government took the position that religious freedom — the very freedom our country was founded upon — is of less importance than curtailing perceived aggressions against the LGBT lobby. Until President Trump takes action and shifts the tide, bureaucrats, like those who persecuted the Vander Boons, will continue to behave in the same way they did under Obama and continue to go after innocent bystanders like the Vander Boons.

A far-reaching, substantive executive order defending the religious freedom of each and every American is needed. No, it won’t solve everything — there’s still the issue of the activist judiciary — but it will signal that the President and those who work in the executive branch prioritize the First Amendment over the punitive wishes of the totalitarian, anti-religious LGBT lobby.

Religious freedom is under attack like never before, even in 2017. A Republican president and a Republican Congress isn’t enough without action. Let’s hope President Trump does the right thing and acts soon.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore


Jon Schweppe

Jon Schweppe is the Director of Government Affairs for American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @JonSchweppe