Even though there is a lot of fake news going around alleging that President Donald Trump does not care about religious freedom, a big move from the White House was made in the past week that helped to strongly protect the free exercise of religion.
With the stroke of a pen, the Trump administration reversed policies put in place by the Obama administration seen as damaging to religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. The move also included legal guidance from the Department of Justice lead by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions released two memoranda to enforce the new policies. The first one identifies 20 key principals around religious liberty, and was addressed to all executive departments and administration agencies.
Essentially, the memorandum reminded the agencies of their federal obligations under the law to protect religious liberty. The 20 key principles were included as a way to recognize how that can be accomplished.
Perhaps the strongest part of the memorandum were strict guidelines on using the Johnson Amendment, which was designed to restrict tax-exempt organizations from using their funds and resources to endorse, or even provide opposition, to candidates in an elected office. The second memorandum was directed towards the U.S. Attorney’s office as well as DOJ components. It outlined the way the principles should be implemented within their offices.
Read through the ’20 Key Principles’ below:
1. The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.
2. The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
3. The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
4. Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government.
5. Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.
6. Government may not target religious individuals or entities for special disabilities based on their religion.
7. Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws.
8. Government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups.
9. Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
10. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening any aspect of religious observance or practice, unless imposition of that burden on a particular religious adherent satisfies strict scrutiny.
11. RFRA’s protection extends not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.
12. RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.
13. A governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion under RFRA if it bans an aspect of an adherent’s religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.
14. The strict scrutiny standard applicable to RFRA is exceptionally demanding.
15. RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties.
16. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.
17. Title VIl’s protection extends to discrimination on the basis of religious observance or practice as well as belief, unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship on the business.
18. The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace.
19. Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.
20. As a general matter, the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s exemptions or attributes of its religious character.
This is a major move in the right direction for religious freedom. Hopefully, the Department of Justice will remain true to the principles outlined above, and allow all Americans to live by their faith and conscious going forward.
~ 1776 Christian