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  • Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

  • Staver

Sunday, May 14, 2017 1:00 am

Separation anxiety: pro

Trump order sparks new church-state debate

Mathew Staver | For the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel

Religious freedom is the first freedom enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Acutely aware of the importance of religious freedom, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

Washington and the Founding Fathers often referred to religion and morality as the twin pillars that uphold the Republic. John Adams, the second president, wrote that statesmen “may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”

Religious freedom has come under attack in unprecedented ways. For example, under what's known as Obamacare, religious ministries, educational institutions and businesses have been forced to fund genocide through abortion drugs and devices. It is unconscionable for pro-life Americans to pay for health-care plans that cover abortion on demand.

Although Hobby Lobby won a narrow 5-4 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, Christian ministries like Little Sisters of the Poor are still fighting for their life. Either this Catholic ministry – which helps the poor and needy – participates in the genocide of innocent children (which it cannot do), or it will face crippling fines that will end the ministry. Many Christian ministries and charities face the same hard choice. This should not be in a country that was born to protect religious freedom.

Obamacare spawned an unprecedented number of lawsuits over religious liberty. Most of the litigation is still ongoing. President Donald Trump has the opportunity, through executive order, to reverse course and rein in the federal government's assault on religious freedom. For example, he could order all federal agencies to cease enforcement of Obamacare's mandate that assaults religious freedom.

Trump could also pull back an over-aggressive Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, chaired by Chai Feldblum, who was appointed to lead the EEOC by Barack Obama and whose term ends July 1, 2018. When asked about “sexual liberty” and religious liberty, Feldblum said, “Sexual liberty should win in most cases. … (I)n almost all cases sexual liberty should win.” She could not think of any instance in which religious liberty should win.

Last year, Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are code words for intolerance, and that religious liberty must yield to LGBT anti-discrimination laws. This Obama appointee's report called for the elimination of religious accommodations and exemptions that date back to the founding of America and have been part of civil rights laws since 1964.

On the state and local levels, the battle between champions of religious freedom and the LGBT agenda continues to rage.

Aaron and Melissa Kline, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, have been ordered to pay $135,000 because the state of Oregon wants to force Melissa Kline to participate in and promote a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year-old owner of Arlene's Flowers in Washington state, faces a similar battle.

When her longtime friend and customer asked her to participate in his same-sex ceremony, she held his hand and politely declined because of her religious beliefs about marriage. Instead of seeking another florist, the ACLU sued and now the state attorney general has pounced on Stutzman.

Although Trump may not be able to do much about the religious liberty conflicts at the state and local levels, by signing an executive order he can require agencies of the federal government to respect religious freedom. Then, like most of our presidents throughout history, Trump would be using his office to promote religious freedom.

Mathew Staver is the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, an international litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family since 1989 by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.