A weak defense of religious liberty

Culture | President Donald Trump’s order does not address key issues
by Nick Eicher
Posted on Friday, May 5, 2017, at 12:59 pm

Each week, The World and Everything in It features a “Culture Friday” segment, in which Executive Producer Nick Eicher discusses the latest cultural news with John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Here is a summary of this week’s conversation.

Evangelical pastors—reportedly about 50 of them—visited the White House on Wednesday night to celebrate the president’s religious liberty executive order, which he signed Thursday.

The order sets a general administration policy of protecting and promoting religious liberty, as well as directing the attorney general to provide guidance on the subject to federal agencies. It directs to IRS not to go after churches that get involved in politics and promises regulatory relief to religious objectors to Obamacare rules requiring coverage for abortion-causing drugs in health plans.

But many evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

“It was a disappointing executive order,” John Stonestreet said this week. “I am grateful that under this president we have been given a reprieve when it comes to an aggressive attack on religious liberty. But it’s not unreasonable for those who supported this president on the grounds of religious liberty to expect a little bit more.”

Stonestreet acknowledged the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits political endorsements from the pulpit, was not a useful law but said it wasn’t the most pressing religious liberty threat.

“The key issue of religious liberty is really not what can be said in the pulpit; it’s what can be done in the public square,” Stonestreet said. “It’s not whether pastors can endorse politicians, it’s whether everyday Americans can live and speak out of their deeply held convictions without fear of recrimination.”

The threats to religious liberty aren’t just coming from politics, though. Americans fundamentally misunderstand the role of religion in society, Stonestreet said.

“We’re not going to be able to preserve space for religious conscience and freedom of speech unless we do the cultural work to communicate the importance of religion in the public square,” Stonestreet said.

Listen to “Culture Friday” on The World and Everything in It.

Nick Eicher

Nick is chief content officer of WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. He has served WORLD Magazine as a writer and reporter, managing editor, editor, and publisher. Nick resides with his family in St. Louis, Mo.

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  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Fri, 05/05/2017 10:21 pm

    The President might be wise to make other executive orders concerning religious liberty in the coming months.  We might want to see how effective the attorney general will be with federal issues, but the next step would rather be the most important step when considering real religious freedom.  That is the practice of religion in the public square.  Could freedom of religion continue to be real for bakers, wedding photographers, and those who want to pray on the high school football field before a game?  These issues are the heart of liberty in a great nation such as America.  Without these freedoms we are not free.  Without these freedoms we are not strong.  Without these freedoms we are a people who have lost the foundation that, with the invisible hand of providence, brought us this far as a leader among all the nations of the world.  This is our choice.  Do we continue to live free by the guiding light of God's law and the application of grace without which that law has no meaning? Or do we live in enslavement to a government that is destined to lose its viability on the international stage as it has no reason to lead?   

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Sat, 05/06/2017 05:49 pm

    The leaders advocating Religious Liberty are quick to judge Trump when he is putting forward an olive branch toward us. Yes, the Executive Order is largely symbolic but it is definitely heading in the right direction! Can you imagine what Hillary would do with our Religious Liberties if she were president? So rather than criticizing Trump, I want to know what legislation these leaders are coming up with to fight the culture war and protect our religious liberties? Why aren't they putting forward this legislation asking Trump to support it? Why aren't they strategically working to introduce this legislation so Congress and Senate will pass it and put it on Trump's desk to sign? I am tired of the lackadaisical attitude that these leaders have where they don't seize the opportunity before it is gone! It is time to act so let us act! Let us go out in faith and win the cultural war! 

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