Politics & Policy

Will Trump Protect Christians Here at Home?

(Mark Wilson/Getty)

Three out of the top four GOP candidates just committed to passing the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) in their first 100 days in the White House. 

Carson, Cruz, Rubio, Trump: Which one would you guess refused to make that commitment?

Donald J. Trump.

The pledge request to prioritize FADA was made by Heritage Action, FRC Action, and the American Principles Project (APP, where I work).

FADA would protect gay-marriage dissidents from punishment by the federal government or its regulatory arms, including the IRS: “The Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man or one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Christian schools, charities, individuals, and small-business owners would receive guarantees of equal access to charitable tax deductions, contracts, loans, accreditation, and employment.

As we explained to all the candidates:

Serious scholars suggest religious schools should expect to be punished by the withholding of federal funds under current law if they do not treat same-sex unions as marriages. “It seems to me very likely that, in the coming years, schools and universities that accept public funds and support will be required — as a condition of those funds — to have nondiscrimination rules that forbid discrimination on sexual-orientation grounds,” one such scholar, a professor who oversees the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame’s law school, told The Atlantic. “And, these rules will not distinguish between sexual-orientation discrimination and non-recognition of same-sex marriages.”

We told them that Americans like Kelvin Cochran are losing their livelihoods because they publicly oppose gay marriage.

It seemed like such a simple ask: “Millions of Americans can disagree over the definition of marriage, however, it is essential that the millions of Americans who support natural marriage are not punished by the Federal government for their support for marriage as it has been understood for millennia.

“We ask, therefore, for your public assurance that you would prioritize passing the First Amendment Defense Act in the first 100 days of your administration.”

Carson, Cruz, and Rubio said yes. Donald J. Trump said no.

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Trump did show these three conservative groups the respect of a personal reply. And the personal letter he wrote to Frank Cannon, the president of APP, is newsworthy for two reasons: First, Trump expressed an opinion about FADA for the first time — he conditionally supports it: “If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature and enactment,” Trump said. This is good news, and it is big news.

Trump, you may have noticed, doesn’t mind being politically incorrect generally. He doesn’t worry about insulting Mexicans, or Muslims. Or Megyn Kelly. But as Reuters noticed, there is one group Trump strives not to offend. In a story this week headlined “The LGBT Pick for the GOP Nomination: Donald Trump,” reporter Jonathan Jacob Allen writes that Trump “stands out among Republican presidential hopefuls for his comparative sensitivity to one politically potent minority group: the gay community.”

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Trump supports employment protections for LGBT workers, he publicly criticized Kim Davis for not following the law, and his opposition to gay marriage has been brief and pro forma. “He is one of the best, if not the best, pro-gay Republican candidates to ever run for the presidency,” Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory T. Angelo told Reuters.

So even conditional and partial support for FADA from the current GOP frontrunner is big news and good news.

#share#FADA is beginning to emerge as a unified minimum for the GOP. It’s not just Cruz and Carson and Huckabee and Santorum who committed to passing FADA. Even Jeb Bush promised to support FADA, although he refuses to sign pledges: “I support the First Amendment Defense Act because I believe that Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs,” Governor Bush told us via e-mail. “.The government should not be in the business of bullying or penalizing individuals, businesses, or other organizations who hold different views. This is a big country that can accommodate many different views.”

EDITORIAL: Accommodate Conscientious Objectors to Same-Sex Marriage 

Too many conservatives dismiss Jeb Bush as just an establishment guy. If so, then the GOP establishment is remarkably eloquent on the justification for FADA.

But a closer look at Trump’s personal reply show how very weak, in comparison, his support for FADA is.

“I want to outline for you my expected approach to securing religious liberty for all Americans if and when I am elected President,” he begins.

And then he proceeds to say, in toto:

I am concerned about the direction this administration is taking our country. I am sure you share those concerns. We have a government that has done nothing to diminish the uncertainty that fills the lives of our fellow citizens and our allies around the world. What concerns me the most is what ground truth will be on January 20, 2017. Right now, we are essentially at the mercy of President Obama, his administration and a Congress that seems lacking in the leadership or courage to counteract the rampant lawlessness that is making America less secure. As many have said, our enemies do not fear us, and our friends do not trust us. Thus, the issues that will need addressing early on in the next administration are less than obvious.

You are asking me to make passing the First Amendment Defense Act a priority in the first 100 days of my administration. As President, I cannot pass legislation, but I will certainly sign legislation that protects religious liberty for all. Right now, we have a clear conflict between the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment. As is clearly stated in Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, Congress, not the courts, has the responsibility to enforce the provisions of that amendment.

The priorities that the next President will need to establish are not known at this time. Protection of the nation and its citizens must come first. Getting the economy back on track must be near the top of the list. Preserving and protecting the rights of our citizens must also be in the mix. If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature.

I read this letter over many times, looking for the outline of Trump’s promised approach to securing religious liberty for all Americans if we elect him our president. He seems to be telling us he doesn’t have one.

Trump is clearly telling us that, on this issue, he will not lead; he will defer to the dysfunctional Congress that cannot even defund Planned Parenthood.

#related#My fellow Americans, as Richard Nixon used to say, we have one shot to put into place a framework of protections that could restrain the next Democratic president (and there will be one, eventually) from stripping our schools and parachurch ministries of their tax-exempt status, and punishing our businesses by withholding government contracts for political reasons. One shot at beginning a longer battle to prevent traditional believers from losing their livelihoods for opposing gay marriage.

One shot for an election that could actually protect our rights, an election that could actually matter.

A strong commitment to FADA should be an easy call. Ask Jeb Bush. But it is one on which Donald J. Trump has instead judged it wise to equivocate and defer.

My fellow Americans, in a few weeks the voting begins: Choose wisely. There will be no do-overs.

– Maggie Gallagher is the author of four books on marriage and is a longtime contributor to National Review.



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