Donald Trump made some hefty promises regarding liberty during his campaign for president. We held up our part of the bargain and made him president; now we’re watching to see how well he fulfills those promises. For those keeping score at home, President Trump took one more step in the right direction when he signed an Executive Order (EO) – appropriately named “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” – on the national day of prayer, May 4. Section one of the EO states:
The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government. For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans’ first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government.
President Trump understands that the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religious speech and practice just as it protects the press and the right to assemble peaceably to protest. It forbids the government from punishing anyone for any expression of thought – religious, political, or otherwise – and President Trump uses this EO to proclaim and ensure that Executive Branch respect. For those unfamiliar with the Bill of Rights, a full transcript exists at the National Archives. The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Previously, all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entities – including most churches and other not-for-profit organizations – were forbidden from advocating for specific legislation or political candidates. Doing so risked the loss of the tax exemption, and so churches tended to avoid political topics in general. Thanks to the EO on religious liberty, churches are no longer held to this rule. While only religious institutions were affected by this, it certainly bodes well for the future of completely unrestricted speech from all platforms.
While the church may not be the appropriate forum for many political discussions – especially the endorsement of a single candidate – there are political issues that could and should be discussed in fellowship. While it probably doesn’t belong in the regular sermon, there is no ethical reason that a religious official or member of the congregation should be forbidden to speak out against legislation or even candidates that restrict individual liberty or support abortion. Section two of this EO prohibits the Department of the Treasury from rescinding a church’s tax-exempt status as a penalty for doing just this.
Section three extends what should have already been a recognized freedom beyond churches. Previously, all employer-sponsored health plans were required to offer contraceptive services. Thanks to this EO, those who are religiously opposed to contraceptives are no longer required to condone and support their use through mandatory medical plans. Women who wish to use contraceptive services are still free to do so – but their employer is not obligated to pay for it. If an employer freely offers this coverage, so be it. Theoretically, contraceptives enable people to have sex without fear of pregnancy. The choice to have sex or not rests entirely on the individual and is none of the employer’s business. While having sex without regard to consequences can certainly have tremendous effects on a person’s health, no company should be forced to pay for any of these consequences or preventative measures.
Somewhere along the way, freedom of religion became the freedom from religion exclusively – and Christians have been both persecuted and prosecuted ever since. True religious liberty includes the freedom from religion, but not by silencing religious speech or practice. The First Amendment guarantees we are free to speak about our beliefs anywhere – and it allows others to disagree. It means that we can pray in public – including school – but that non-believers are thus not required.
Attempting to convince or coerce others to behave in a manner we find acceptable is considered an infringement on their rights, yet when a Christian exercises religious freedom or free speech, it’s an outrage. When Christians sees something offensive, we’re expected to look away, leave, or deal with it. When those who find Christianity offensive see us living what we believe, they should have exactly that amount of freedom – no more and no less.