Donald Trump won the White House thanks in no small part to millions of religious conservatives. Exit polls indicate that he carried the Protestant vote by a margin of 58 to 39 percent, triumphed in the Mormon vote, was the first Republican presidential candidate to win among Catholics since 2004, and won a shocking 81 percent of Evangelicals.
These numbers indicate that religious voters trusted Trump — at least more than Hillary Clinton — to champion Christian causes as he promised on the campaign trail. Trump made a concerted effort to sway Christian and conservative leaders, such as those on his Evangelical advisory council and in his pro-life coalition. He penned a letter to Catholics, vowing to support religious freedom and sign legislation protecting conscience rights in health care and other areas of public life.
Given the unending questions about the strength of Trump’s word, however, he enters the presidency with a lot to prove to the religious Americans who have placed their faith in him. Here are a few good places for him to start.
While Trump has already begun discussing his goal of eliminating the Affordable Care Act after taking office, he should, at the very least, instruct the Health and Human Services department to dissolve its contraception mandate requiring all employers to provide birth control to employees through their insurance plans. This mandate — which is maintained by bureaucratic fiat rather than statutory language — has been enforced against religious schools and employers (including a group of Catholic nuns) with extremely narrow exemptions, and its elimination is one way in which Trump can show he was serious about protecting religious liberty.
Similarly, Trump must be willing to sign a bill to remove all federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Congress was able to pass such a bill in January, but Obama predictably vetoed the measure. If Congress is able to pass a similar bill next term, which seems likely given the fact that the GOP retains control of both chambers, Trump must agree to sign it into law. He has expressed support in the past for defunding Planned Parenthood, at least while the group continues to provide abortions. This is in spite of his claim that the group serves millions of women a year and his touting of the false statistic that abortion makes up only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s “services.”
Like he promised in his letter to American Catholics, Trump must also be willing to protect the conscience rights of religion citizens, especially within the health-care industry. One primary way to do this would be to sign the Conscience Protection Act, which Congress passed in mid July to protect health-care workers who don’t want to participate in morally objectionable procedures such as abortion or sterilization. He has also promised he will support Senator Mike Lee’s First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect from government discrimination those religious Americans who believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
Trump could reassure Christians across the country that their government will once more respect their conscience rights and religious freedom.
Furthermore, Trump could act to reduce a slate of federal regulations implemented by the Obama administration that infringe upon states’ rights. First, he should abolish the federal rule that effectively disallows states from defunding Planned Parenthood. He could also direct the Department of Education to dissolve its rule directing all school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Such a move would also mean that the federal government could no longer accuse the state of North Carolina of violating the Civil Rights Act and Title IX by passing HB2 — or the “bathroom bill” — which allows businesses to determine their own rules regarding their bathrooms and establishes rules for bathrooms in government buildings.
Finally, Trump ought to instruct his Justice Department to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in order to protect religious citizens, not just women accessing abortion clinics as it has done in the past. Earlier this fall, senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee co-authored a letter to the department, inquiring about the evident disparity in how federal authorities treat violent incidents at houses of worship as compared with those occurring at abortion clinics. The law in question states that citizens attending a house of worship should be free from intimidation or attack, in the same way that women visiting abortion clinics are protected from intimidation by protestors outside these facilities. These two senators discovered that the Justice Department has been using the FACE Act to prosecute protestors at abortion clinics, but it has declined to enforce the law in protection of religious Americans. Under a President Trump, one would hope this law would be enforced fairly.
#related#Of the many religious Americans who voted for Trump, it is likely that a large number did so more out of fear of the alternative — a progressive Clinton administration that would eagerly attack their remaining rights — than out of a strong belief in Trump’s willingness to be their champion. But by taking these steps to restore federalism, Trump could reassure Christians across the country that their government will once more respect their conscience rights and religious freedom.