Nel's New Day

May 7, 2017

DDT’s Executive Order: ‘Religious Bigotry’

Many conservatives are unhappy with the “religious liberty” order that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) signed last Thursday: they wanted more discrimination. They don’t believe DDT when he declared to dozens of Judeo-Christian leaders in the Rose Garden ceremony that the “threat against the faith community is over.” Instead, they think that his executive order is useless at best and harmful at worst—sort of like most of his other vague orders. In the National Review, David French called the order “constitutionally dubious, dangerously misleading, and ultimately harmful to the very cause that it purports to protect.” He added, “[DDT] should tear it up, not start over, and do the actual real statutory and regulatory work that truly protects religious liberty.” Meaning that it can’t be used for discrimination.

An earlier draft of the order leaked in February was twice the length of the final one and described as “staggering” and “sweeping,” one which could be challenged in the courts. After last week’s signing, the ACLU called it nothing more than an “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”

Conservative criticisms of DDT’s executive order:

The order’s declaration that the executive branch will “vigorously enforce federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom”: Complaint – the state only repeats that the government should enforce existing laws.

The directive to the Treasury Department to not enforce the so-called Johnson Amendment from 1954 banning nonprofit religious institutions from endorsing political candidates and parties: Complaint – as law, the Amendment requires a change in Congress or the courts. Also, permission to be involved in politics could encourage churches to elect progressive candidates. Orders are good only as long as presidents support them; a future president could reverse the directive.

Instructions to government agencies to “consider issuing amended regulation” to address “conscience-based objections” to ObamaCare’s contraception mandate: Complaint – That’s already happened with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby. The contraception mandate stays on the books, and lawsuits are flooding the courts.

A pledge to “provide regulatory relief”: Complaint – This “promise” is so vague as to mean nothing in law.

Far-right anger to DDT’s executive order:

Brian Brown (left) of the National Organization for Marriage and World Congress for Families denounced the president for his “failure to directly fulfill his repeated campaign promises” and then asked for money.

Bryan Fischer told listeners of his American Family Association radio show that it’s “ultra-liberal” Ivanka Trump’s fault because she “likely leaked the February draft to a liberal rag (The Nation) in order to stir up enough intense outrage from the LGBT community to strangle this baby in the cradle.”

Troy Newman, president of anti-abortion Operation Rescue emailed, “We are really feeling betrayed right now.”

The ACLU may go to court yet. Far-right radio host Todd Starnes reassured his listeners that the order gives anti-LGBTQ, racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions a directive to write—in DDT’s words—“new rules” for the purpose of religious discrimination. A case in point is proposed Texas law echoing one in South Dakota that prevents the state from punishing adoption agencies that deny LGBTQ families services and child placement for “religious” reasons. If it passes, Texas state- and private-funded agencies could reject potential parents seeking to adopt children with such “religious objects” to couples’ being Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ, single, or interfaith couples. Five other states already have this law, but only for faith-based adoption organizations that do not accept government funding. If the Texas law passes, agencies can also reject people who want to foster children, and child welfare organizations can force LGBTQ children to have so-called “conversion therapy,” to “take away the gay.”

Once again, after losing the voter ID law, Texas could go to court for not treating all people equally. This time, however, they have Jeff Sessions who translates the constitutional separation of church and state as prohibiting the favoring of one Christian church over another. He thinks that the First Amendment does not stop establishing Christianity as the national religion.

Christian protection for conservatives by DDT’s Christian order comes from its encouragement to break the law by telling the IRS to violate the Johnson Amendment and not penalize churches for political candidate endorsements and donations. In more “normal” times, these churches and other faith-based nonprofits can lose their tax-exempt status for endorsing political candidates or donating to their campaigns, but Sessions most likely won’t be doing this. The order, however, exempts only nonprofit religious nonprofits and churches; other nonprofits will still be prohibited from political endorsements and donations.

Federal law also requires that employer-provided insurance plans cover contraceptives at no cost to the employee unless the organizations—or “religious” corporations—obtain government exemptions. Sessions will probably not force this requirement. The IRS is already breaking the law by not collecting fees from people refusing to purchase health insurance. Again the Justice Department, headed by Sessions, is responsible for enacting the laws of the land.

While the media has concentrated on LGBTQ losses, the order and Sessions interpretations could negatively impact at least half the people in the United States . In addition to losing birth control, female employees of all “religious” organizations and corporations could lose all forms of preventative care—screenings for sexually transmitted infection, IV, and domestic violence along with well-woman visits. Any business could refuse to hire women or pay them less, based on its “religious convictions.”

With the wealthiest Cabinet in history, DDT has put the icing on the cake for corporations who joined religious groups in the 1930s to fight President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. For decades, the United States leveled out the financial playing field by developing a middle class that enjoyed the 40-hour workweek, lack of child labor, environmental protection, work safety laws, rural health care, and education. Unions, a safety net, and higher taxes for the wealthiest reigned until corporations used evangelicals as a front to elect Ronald Reagan. Princeton scholar Kevin Kruse has described the corporate historical background in his book One Nation under God as the country continues to be more and more extremist. As Rev. William J. Barber II, creator of Moral Mondays fighting against the immoral political excesses in North Carolina, wrote about DDT’s signing of his executive order:

“If today is the fulfillment of the corporatists’ National Day of Prayer, it may also be its undoing. The God of justice hears the cries of those this executive order targets, along with the prayers of all who suffer under this administration. A religious liberty that gives license for discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community is nothing more than lust for power dressed up in a thinning religious garb. The first 100 days of Trump’s presidency has inspired a moral resistance that is not going away, but is building a movement that will bend the arc of our common life toward justice for years to come. This, too, is an answer to prayer. And it may yet save the heart of our democracy.”

Barber said that the executive order is not about religious liberty. “It’s about religious bigotry.”

Public Citizen, a group that favors strict campaign finance limits, plans to bring a lawsuit against the order in court because churches and other religious charities that do not disclose their donors could be used to launder dark money. Its president said, “This executive order may go down in history as the Citizens United of church/state separation in the context of political spending.” Casey Brescia, a spokesman for the Secular Coalition. “Politicians could funnel untold sums of money into churches, and it would all be completely untraceable.”

DDT may have pleased no one. Even worse for the evangelicals, however, might be a backlash from those who don’t want to hear political speeches in about candidates when they go to their house of worship. The past decade has seen the biggest growth of “nones,” especially those among the younger generation who have no affiliation to organized religion. Almost 30 percent of those who left disapprove of religious homophobia, another 16 percent claim their churches became too political, and 19 percent cited clergy sex abuse scandal in both Catholic and Protestant churches. Ninety percent of evangelical leaders think that pastors should not endorse candidates, and 72 percent support the Johnson Amendment. Even 66 percent of DDT-voters want the amendment left as is. Instead DDT is promoting the controlling authoritarianism of religion that many people—except the white men surrounding him—don’t like.

One piece of temporary joy for the day. Frances’s DDT imitator, Marie Le Pen, lost the election to Emmanuel Macron, despite the last-minute drop of negative information about him for “unknown” (aka Russian?) hackers. As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, one more reason for the French to declare their superiority over the United States.

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