Voices: Donald Trump is protecting religious freedom in a perilous age

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Donald Trump has done more to protect and promote freedom of religion than any other president in living memory. After nearly a decade of fending off federal intrusions into the free exercise of religion, Americans of faith finally have a consistent ally in the White House.

Trump administration orders and initiatives

During his first year in office, for instance, President Trump signed an executive order advancing religious freedom and empowering freedom of speech, ensuring religious institutions can freely exercise their First Amendment rights to advocate for causes that reflect their values.

It also checks the abuses of the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the tax code that prevented nonprofit organizations—including churches—from freely exercising their First Amendment rights.

In 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services established a new Conscience and Religious Freedom division to protect religious freedom of conscience in health care matters, fulfilling one of President Trump’s key campaign promises from the 2016 election—his pledge to roll back the infringements on religious freedom imposed by the Obama administration.

That same year, the president signed an executive order establishing the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative to provide recommendations on the administration’s policy agenda as it affects faith-based communities. This initiative will guarantee faith-based community organizations and programs have a voice in the White House, enlisting their help to formulate policy recommendations that will further secure religious liberty in this country.

This isn’t just a matter of principle; it’s also practical public policy. Faith-based organizations and initiatives play an important role in alleviating poverty, feeding the homeless and performing other vital services for communities across the United States.

The Trump administration also finalized a rule granting more flexibility for federal employees whose religious beliefs require them to abstain from work on certain days. This measure ensures federal employees are not penalized for practicing their religious beliefs, a central component of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

President Trump’s influence over the courts

Among Donald Trump’s greatest legacies, at least when it comes to defending religious liberties, will be his enduring influence over the courts.

During President Trump’s first two years in office, the Department of Justice filed more “friend-of-the-court” briefs in religious liberty cases than either President Obama or President Bush did in their first two years in office.

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Because the overwhelming majority of cases filed in appellate and trial courts do not make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, lower court cases often are incredibly consequential—which is why the president has put such an emphasis on filling vacancies on the federal bench.

In addition to appointing Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, President Trump already has secured Senate confirmation of more than 200 judges to the Courts of Appeals and federal District Courts.

In contrast, only 334 of President Obama’s judicial nominees were successfully confirmed during his eight years in office. Even prior to his milestone 200th confirmation, President Trump already had appointed more than 20 percent of the federal judiciary and more than one quarter of all Federal Circuit Court judges, making him one of the most transformative presidents ever when it comes to shaping the federal judiciary.

President Trump’s judicial appointments are overwhelmingly and intentionally selected from the ranks of judges who adhere to the constitutionalist, constructionist school of judicial philosophy, and will interpret the laws and the Constitution as they were written, not seek to impose a radical progressive agenda on America by judicial fiat.

President Trump’s judicial appointments can be counted on to rule in favor of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, as the Founding Fathers originally intended.

President Trump’s administration has achieved more than any other in recent history for religious liberty. His work on behalf of religious believers of all faiths and creeds deserves to be recognized and praised.

Rev. Ramiro Peña is the founder and pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church of Waco. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion at Baylor. In addition to graduate studies in philosophy and business at Baylor, he has completed training in pastoral counseling, hospital chaplaincy and police chaplaincy. He served on the National Hispanic Advisory Council to Donald Trump when he was a presidential candidate and has continued to serve on the president’s informal group of evangelical advisers. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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