NOTHSTINE: Will Trump restore religious liberty?

U.S. President Donald Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast event in Washington

In 2013, former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dropped the Latin “hostes humani generes” in his dissent of the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In a prophetic announcement, Scalia was using a legal term that pointed out the high court was branding those that didn’t go along with the new definition of marriage as “enemies of the human race.” His prediction quickened as the political left rapidly mobilized with the full backing of the federal government to squelch dissent. This was remarkably true on issues of human sexuality and faith in the public square.Religious liberty and freedom of conscience rapidly morphed into narrower terms. “Freedom of worship” began to diminish from previously broader protections. “You’re free to believe what you want, but confine it to the home and churches,” reflected the thinking.This was most evident in the compulsion of Christian photographers, bakers, and other service providers to violate their conscience or face exorbitant fines and relentless shaming. In perhaps a new constitutional low, the Obama Administration even picked a fight with mostly elderly nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, attempting to compel them to go against deeply held beliefs by providing contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs as part of the HHS mandate under Obamacare.At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, President Donald Trump reiterated his campaign promise “to defend and protect religious liberty.” Trump called for a nation “where all faiths are respected.” A leaked copy of Trump’s alleged executive order, “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” recently found its way into the hands of media outlets. The Nation publication predictably fretted, saying it would “legalize discrimination.” Other activist groups and publications piled on, claiming it meant dark days ahead for the LGBTQ community.The now too-common hysteria aside, the protections only strengthen guarantees already enshrined in the Bill of Rights. “Religious freedom is not confined to religious organizations or limited to religious exercise that takes place in houses of worship or the home,” read a portion of the order. “It is guaranteed to persons of all faiths and extends to all activities of life.” The American Framers already elevated religious liberty from mere “toleration” to an inherent right. Those rights transcend government edicts and decrees, and where government does have a role it is in securing those freedoms.That politicians are debating the need to strengthen a right already guaranteed by the Constitution signals the immense threat to religious liberty. An executive order from Trump is needed, and is only a starting point, not only to reestablish the full meaning of the First Amendment, but to protect Americans of faith from an activist judiciary and the federal government.It is the American culture too that must make a broader commitment to respecting deeply held beliefs and values amidst a diverse melting pot. More freedom is to the advantage of Americans. Ultimately, a healthy republic requires virtue and strong moral influences to protect the rights of all its citizens.
Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.