A year ago, when Donald Trump and Mike Pence were elected to the highest offices in the land, Americans United warned of the many threats this administration posed to church-state separation. We promised that if any of those threats came to fruition, we would be ready to fight back and defend religious freedom.
Unfortunately, Trump and his administration are trying to follow through on many of their dangerous promises. Americans United and our allies are vigilantly working to stop Trump’s promises from being fulfilled.
Here’s a review of some of the attacks Trump and his cronies have made on religious freedom in the last year – and how we’ve responded.
During the campaign, Trump promised to “get rid of” the Johnson Amendment, a 63-year-old provision of the federal tax code that protects the integrity of tax-exempt nonprofits, including houses of worship, by ensuring they don’t endorse or oppose political candidates. Even though thousands of faith leaders and nonprofits and the majority of Americans support the current law, Trump and a few far-right religious and Republican leaders are ignoring the will of the people and are working to undermine the Johnson Amendment’s protections for their own political gain.
House Republican leadership has included language in a pending tax-reform package that would allow churches – but not other nonprofits – to endorse political candidates during “religious services and gatherings.” Americans United has been working with a coalition of nonprofits and faith leaders to educate members of Congress about how the Johnson Amendment protects houses of worship and nonprofits from being transformed into political tools by candidates seeking power; you can help by contacting your representatives.
Americans United continues to fend off the Trump administration's attacks on religious freedom.
Women’s Health Care
On Oct. 6, Trump’s administration announced new regulations that attack women’s health care. Employers and universities can now use religion as an excuse to deny their staff and students health insurance coverage for birth control. Access to affordable contraception is critical to women’s health and equality because it protects their health, allows them to plan their families and allows them to participate in the workforce and pursue their education. Stripping insurance coverage for birth control is discrimination, plain and simple.
On Oct. 31, AU was joined by the National Women’s Law Center and the law firm Dentons in filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of women in the Midwest. Our lawsuit explains that the Trump administration’s new rules are unconstitutional because they favor certain religious beliefs over others and excessively entangle the government with religion.
Within a week of taking office in January, Trump began to act on his promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” by issuing his first Muslim ban. When that ban was blocked by the courts, Trump issued a second ban – which AU and allies also challenged in court. As the second ban was about to go before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, Trump issued Muslim Ban 3.0.
Americans United, joined by Muslim Advocates and the law firm Covington and Burling, filed the first lawsuit challenging Muslim Ban 3.0, and federal courts so far have blocked the ban from going into effect. The Trump administration has appealed and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in our case on Dec. 8. We’ll be ready once again to explain why Trump’s Muslim ban is un-American and unconstitutional because it singles out a group of people for disfavor based solely on their religion.
Blueprint For Discrimination
Last month, the Trump administration took steps toward allowing religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, women, religious minorities and others. The Department of Justice issued new guidelines that are an effort to greenlight religious exemptions that would allow taxpayer-funded organizations, corporations and individuals to use religion to trump anti-discrimination and other laws.
Days later, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a formal request for information to help it figure out how to “affirmatively accommodate” the religious exercise of faith-based organizations that receive taxpayer funding. In other words, HHS is asking how to change its rules to allow government-funded, religiously affiliated organizations to discriminate against who they hire and serve.
Through our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign, Americans United will continue to stand against efforts to misuse religious freedom as an excuse to harm others. While we’re waiting to see how the government interprets these latest DOJ and HHS recommendations, we’re encouraging Congress to pass the Do No Harm Act, which will help to ensure religion can’t be used to trump laws that protect people. AU also is in the courts supporting those who have been discriminated against in the name of religion. Most recently, we filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case of a baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. We’ll be there to support the LGBTQ community on Dec. 5 when the high court hears argument in this case.
It’s been a challenging year, and there likely will be more challenges to come from Trump and Company. But AU hasn’t been around for 70 years because we back down from attacks on church-state separation. With your help, we’ll continue to make our voices heard in these vital battles to defend religious freedom. You can support us by taking our pledge to advocate for religious freedom, fairness and equality.