Washington D.C., May 3, 2017 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday sent out a text message alert urging Catholics to sign a petition calling on President Donald Trump to issue an executive order protecting religious freedom. The petition, hosted by Human Life Action, encourages the president to sign such an executive order, which is rumored to be in the works for Thursday.
Religious freedom advocates have warned that, due to various mandates and rules issued during the Obama administration, religious institutions that uphold traditional marriage or do not cooperate with abortions and contraceptive use could soon face federal action if no executive order is issued to protect them. A draft of such an executive order was leaked earlier this year, but was reportedly scuttled due to the efforts of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
An executive order could help mitigate the effects of the HHS birth control mandate, which caused hundreds of religious non-profits and other employers to sue the federal government claiming the mandate forced them to violate their consciences. The Trump administration has not yet stopped defending the mandate in court, although White House advisor Leonard Leo told Axios recently that the administration was not planning to defend the mandate indefinitely, but was rather still considering the best “litigation proof” route for lifting the mandate’s burden on religious employers.
Another reason for an executive order would be the protection of health care providers and crisis pregnancy centers from mandates that they perform abortions or cover them in employee health plans, according to religious freedom advocates.
Currently, the Weldon Amendments bars federal funding of states that force employers to provide abortion coverage for employees. But after California ruled that health care plans — including those of churches and religious organizations — had to include coverage for elective abortions, the head of the Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Health and Human Services decided last summer that the state had not violated the Weldon Amendment.
Also at stake is the tax-exempt status of schools and other religious institutions which teach that marriage is one man and one woman. In 2015 oral arguments in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, President Obama’s solicitor general Donald Verrilli said that the ability of these colleges to retain their tax-exempt status if same-sex marriage is the law of the land is “certainly going to be an issue.”
Another way an executive order could protect religious freedom would be to protect federal contractors, and dioceses and churches that provide military chaplains, from having to comply with mandates that they support same-sex marriage. The Russell Amendment had upheld this freedom and was included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the House, but was removed by Senate Republicans so the bill could pass the Senate.
“Any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs,” the U.S. Bishops’ Conference stated earlier this year on the need for an executive order. “It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible.”