I am sometimes asked how religious people could vote for a man with the personal history of Donald Trump. Consider this Smith on the Election, but I always answer that I think it was an act of self defense.
The Obama Administration had been very hostile to the free exercise of religion–even to the point of trying to force nuns to participate in contraception coverage–and Hillary Clinton threatened to be even worse. As the old saying goes, any port in a storm.
And now, Trump is proving that at least as far as the free exercise of religion goes, his administration is a friend to people of faith. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced the creation of a new office to protect medical professionals of faith who object to participating in acts such as abortion, assisted suicide, and sex change surgeries. From the HHS Press release:
Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pleased to announce the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR)…
The creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.
The law hasn’t changed. But the enforcement emphasis has, which can be just as significant.
This is good news. Significant challenges to religious freedom in the medical context are mounting. Indeed, as I have written, there is a burgeoning campaign to eventually drive people with pro-life religious beliefs out of medicine.
In 2007, Washington-state issued a regulation requiring all pharmacists to carry all FDA-approved drugs, which a federal trial judge found was pushed by Planned Parenthood and framed to legally coerce a particular pharmacy chain owned by a religious family to dispense an abortifacient contraceptive in violation of their faith beliefs. Despite this targeting, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the regulation because it applied to all pharmacies equally.
Meanwhile, the ACLU has sued Catholic hospitals for following Catholic moral teaching by refusing to sterilizations or sex change surgeries.
This new HHS office won’t necessarily protect medical professionals from such state regulatory or private legal actions. But it does communicate a strong message to medical employers that they will could face the wrath of government if they try and coerce their religious employees to act in contravention of their faith.
We now live in a society in which people of good will possess radically divergent moral beliefs, including about the morality of services or procedures in the medical context. If we are going to keep from bursting apart, we will need comity and tolerance. The new HHS office is a positive step toward that end.