As Americans gather around the dinner table this Thanksgiving, Christian families have reason to celebrate their religious freedoms in the same spirit as the Pilgrims who celebrated their newfound religious liberties in the New World on the first Thanksgiving Day.Last month the Trump Administration took action to elevate religious freedom as a primary guiding principle in the operation of the United States government. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a formal guidance to all federal departments and agencies, and to U.S. Attorneys across the country, which included 20 key principles in respect of religious liberty.
In his letter to federal decision-makers, Sessions wrote:
“Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in our Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage.” “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place,” Sessions further wrote. “Noone should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.” Among the principles enunciated by Attorney General Sessions is that “a governmental action [cannot] ban an aspect of a person’s religious observance or practice, compel an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or pressure a person to modify such observance or practice…except in rare cases.”
Another guiding principle spelled out in the document is that “the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on a religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities,” and that “religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” Attorney General Sessions said the new guidance was a result of a promise made by President Donald Trump earlier this year. In that speech, President Trump said that “Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding, and the soul of our nation. This Administration will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.”
One federal agency is already reversing course from the anti-religious agenda of the Obama Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is suspending administrative action against Don and Ellen Vander Boon, the owners of West Michigan Beef Company, a meatpacking facility near Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company proudly states on their corporate website that they “seek to glorify and honor God in all we do.”
In August of 2015, USDA inspectors visited the beef company’s plant for one of their routine inspections. During the review, the inspector in charge passed by a table in the employee breakroom covered with magazines and newspapers. The inspector noticed a copy of an article Don Vander Boon had placed there expressing the Biblical view that God designed marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Shortly thereafter, Vander Boon received a visit from the area USDA Supervisor. He was told that if he did not remove the article from the breakroom the USDA would pull their inspectors from the plant, and thus force the ultimate shutdown of the business. The Supervisor informed Vander Boon that the article violated the agency’s rules against “offensive and harassing speech.” Vander Boon felt he had no choice but to submit to the inspectors’ demands, or else eliminate the source of income for his family, their 45 employees, and the local community.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has now explained to USDA inspectors that their job is to inspect beef, not brains. “Opinions about same-sex marriage, gender identity, and sexual morality are all matters of public importance…I want to reestablish this Department’s commitment to safeguarding every American’s First Amendment rights, particularly the right to free speech and free religious exercise…Doing so is not optional. It is one of the reasons we exist.”
The Trump Administration has already put an end to one of the most egregious religious liberty abuses of the Obama Administration. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has now restricted the scope of the contraceptive and abortion drug mandate. Under that Obamacare edict, all health insurance plans were required to include coverage of abortifacient drugs and devices.While the regulation included a religious exemption, it only applied to churches. The Obama Administration insisted that the mandate be applied to other religious institutions and non-profit religious organizations. Attorneys for the federal government engaged in a ludicrous legal battle in federal court demanding that the Little Sisters of the Poor provide contraceptives to their members. The Little Sisters is a Catholic religious order whose nuns make a lifelong vow of chastity.
Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, praised the new religious freedom directive issued by Attorney General Sessions. “After eight years of the federal government’s relentless assault on the First Amendment, the Trump Administration has taken concrete steps that will once again erect a bulwark of protection around our religious freedoms. Federal agencies have now been put on notice. You will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe, but to also live according to those beliefs.”