THE DAY AFTER the leak, Trump didn’t mention the draft order but made broad promises to defend religious freedom during his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. The only details he offered described freedom of worship: “I will totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely.”
Hours later, Republican lawmakers unveiled House and Senate versions of the Free Speech Fairness Act, legislation that would repeal the Johnson Amendment.
Trump has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill prohibiting punitive government action based on marriage views, if it reaches his desk. But he’s made no public promise to take executive action on the matter.
“If you pay attention to what Trump does when he talks about religious liberty, it always comes down to saying Merry Christmas or the Johnson Amendment, which is irrelevant to the threats traditional believers now face in law, much less culture,” said Maggie Gallagher, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.
A key transgender case headed to the Supreme Court should provide clarity in the coming weeks. The high court has scheduled March 28 oral arguments in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., a challenge to the Obama-era requirement that all public schools allow students to use the locker room and restroom facilities matching their perceived gender identity. Last year Trump told The Washington Post he would rescind the Department of Education directive.
“The president could reverse those guidelines today,” said Gallagher, who co-founded the National Organization for Marriage. “If he hasn’t done so, or his education secretary hasn’t done so, by March 28, we will have a pretty clear signal he’s going to embrace and affirm the whole legal regime that Obama created, which inserts LGBT into every federal law banning sex discrimination.”
“The president could reverse those guidelines today” —Maggie Gallagher
Most Christian leaders who spoke with WORLD maintain a positive outlook. They point out it’s still early in Trump’s presidency, he’s fulfilling his promises so far, and it would make little political sense to break a key pledge to a core constituency in order to placate a voter bloc that largely did not support him.
“The evangelical vote was critical to his success,” said Perkins, who noted Johnson Amendment repeal would enable pastors to criticize Trump. “He’s not going to empower them and then turn away from them.”
Modder hopes Trump vindicates that optimism. The retired military officer said troops in combat need God-fearing chaplains who aren’t constantly looking over their shoulders. The potential religious liberty executive order would provide such protection: “Religious liberty works both ways—it’s not just for conservatives. … I believe President Trump is going to do the right thing.”
Former Secretary of State John Kerry touted LGBT rights as an established “cornerstone” of U.S. foreign policy in a January exit memo. On Feb. 13 Foreign Policy reported the State Department had retained Randy Berry, President Obama’s special envoy for gay rights. But since Berry is a career foreign service officer, not a political appointee, it remained unclear to what extent the Trump administration would continue Obama-era policies.