February 16, 2017
In early February, several media outlets reported that President Donald J. Trump is considering issuing an executive order establishing a government wide initiative to respect religious freedom. Multiple news outlets published a copy of a draft executive order. The President has not yet signed the executive order on religious freedom.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, jointly issued a statement urging support for the draft executive order.
“The right of all human beings to religious freedom, based on the inherent dignity of every person, has long been supported by the Catholic bishops of the United States. Over the last several years, to our great dismay, the federal government has eroded this fundamental right, our first and most cherished freedom,” the bishops said in their statement.
They pointed to the HHS mandate as an example of policies that pose “an incredibly heavy burden” on the Little Sisters of the Poor and others due to conscientious objections to facilitating coverage of sterilization and contraception, including drugs and devices that may cause abortions.
“The Little Sisters—and so many others—still do not have adequate relief and still face possible fines in the tens of millions of dollars if they do not comply with the HHS mandate,” they said.
President Trump has pledged that his “administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in our land.” The bishops urged the fulfillment of his promise, including an end to regulations and other mandates by the federal government that force people of faith to make impossible choices.
“We express our fervent hope that with new leadership in the Executive Branch, basic protections for religious practice may be restored and even strengthened,” the bishop’s statement said. “As President Trump himself has affirmed, religious freedom is under severe threat, including in our own country, even though it is the first of our Constitutional freedoms. An immediate remedy to these threats is needed, for without it, our freedom to serve—as exemplified by the Little Sisters and others who serve the poor—will remain in jeopardy, and needless conflict between the faith community and the federal government will continue.”
The bishops pointed out that it was encouraging to hear that the President may be considering an Executive Order to implement strong protections for religious freedom across the federal government, in many of the areas where it has been eroded by the preceding Administration, such as health coverage, adoption, accreditation, tax exemption, and government grants and contracts. They added that they and those who shepherd and serve those in need would be grateful if the President would take “this positive step toward allowing all Americans to be able to practice their faith without severe penalties from the federal government.”
“As Christians, our goal is to live and serve others as the Gospel asks,” they said. “President Trump can ensure that we are not forced from the public square. Restoring the federal government’s proper relationship with the First Amendment and other laws protecting conscience and religious freedom will enable us to continue our service to the most vulnerable of Americans.”