Authors: Sean Hannity
In the last chapter I detailed many of the pressing threats to Americans' religious liberty. President Trump's record shows he understands the danger and is taking strong action against it. On May 4, 2017, Trump issued an executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” that fulfilled a campaign promise to dismantle the Johnson Amendment, which banned tax-exempt entities such as churches and nonprofits from engaging in political speech and activities. Trump's order relaxes federal enforcement of the ban, but only Congress can repeal it.
The order instructs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” for endorsing or opposing candidates. “We are giving churches their voices back,” said Trump. The order also instructs the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and HHS to consider changing Obamacare regulations requiring employers to provide contraception coverage in employee insurance plans.
The Trump administration further demonstrated its commitment to religious liberty when its Department of Justice filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the religious freedom of baker Jack Phillips to decline to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in what became the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
In May 2018, the president issued an executive order establishing a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
Trump's HHS has been particularly active on this issue. It has proposed two regulations to exempt organizations with moral or religious objections from being required to buy insurance coverage for
contraceptives and abortifacients, and has launched a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. It also finalized a rule to prevent federal agencies from discriminatingâand to deny federal funding for state and local governments that discriminateâagainst health-care organizations based on their refusal to provide or participate in abortion services. The rule protects health-care entities and individuals from being forced “to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide.” “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” said Office for Civil Rights director Roger Severino. “This rule ensures that health care entities and professionals won't be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it's the law.”
The State Department has hosted two Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom, in which world leaders met to discuss and promote religious liberty.
The Department of Justice has also engaged in religious freedom matters, having formed a Religious Liberty Task Force to issue explicit legal guidance for all executive agencies on how to apply the religious liberty protections under federal law.
More recently, Attorney General William Barr warned government officials that during the coronavirus outbreak, they cannot impose restrictions on religious activity that don't also apply to similar nonreligious activity.
The DOJ also filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing that a memorial to forty-nine World War I veterans in the form of a cross on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland, does not violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause.
The Trump administration has filed amicus briefs supporting religious liberty in many other casesâin fact, it has filed more such briefs than either the Obama or the George W. Bush administrations.
President Trump is the first American president to convene a
meeting at the United Nations solely on the topic of religious liberty. In a speech to the UN General Assembly exclusively on religious liberty, he called for ending religious persecution throughout the world.
Trump backed up his words by dedicating $25 million to protect religious sites and houses of worship across the globe, and also established a coalition of top business leaders to promote religious liberty in the workplace.
Shortly thereafter, HHS secretary Alex Azar declared to the UN General Assembly, “There is no international right to an abortion.” Furthermore, he denounced efforts to provide global access to abortion and condemned the UN's use of euphemisms for abortion such as “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
The Trump administration, through nine federal agencies including the Education Department, HHS, and DOJ, has issued guidance to protect voluntary prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. The administration also proposed a rule to facilitate the acquisition of federal funds by religious groups that provide social services, which would eliminate an Obama executive order forcing religious entities, such as health-care providers, child welfare organizations, and medical nonprofits, to inform people they may receive the same service from secular providers.
In a recent action on religious freedom, on February 5, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo inaugurated the International Religious Freedom Alliance to promote religious liberty and fight religious persecution, especially by terrorists and violent extremists. “The Alliance is intended to bring together senior government representatives to discuss actions their nations can take together to promote respect for freedom of religion or belief and protect members of religious minority groups worldwide,” said Pompeo.
President Trump has acted energetically to secure our border despite determined resistance from open-borders Democrats and judges who sympathize with them. As soon as he entered office, President Trump honored his signature campaign promise by calling on Congress to fully fund a wall on our southern border, close loopholes in immigration laws, and end chain migration and the visa lottery program. He also issued several executive orders to enhance border security. In his first week in office, on January 25, 2017, he imposed penalties on sanctuary cities and made them ineligible for certain federal grants. Having driven the left berserk, the order was challenged in court and ultimately upheld by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. Following the ruling President Trump announced that the federal government would begin withholding funding from sanctuary cities.
The president's order also called for the hiring of 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents,
and for deporting those who “pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
Another executive order called for the construction of a border wall on our southern border and building additional detention facilities to house those entering the country illegally.
Yet another order suspended the refugee admission program for 120 days, indefinitely stopped the admission of refugees from Syria, and asked for a review of the refugee admission process. The order also limited the number of refugees in 2017 to fewer than 50,000 and banned travelers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the country for at least ninety days, to improve security screening for terrorists and criminals.
From the beginning, however, federal judges partially thwarted Trump's border enforcement efforts. Federal district judge Ann M. Donnelly of the federal district court in Brooklyn enjoined the government from removing people arriving in the United States from the covered
Federal district judge James Robart blocked key parts of the travel ban, and his ruling was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on February 9, 2017.
As announced by UN ambassador Nikki Haley, the Trump administration refused to sign the United Nations' Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, because it would cede sovereignty over U.S. immigration decisions to an international body. The compact would extend asylum rights and provide access to government benefits beyond those allowed by U.S. immigration law. “No country has done more than the United States, and our generosity will continue,” said Haley. “But our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country. The global approach in the New York Declaration is simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.”
Department of Homeland Security secretary John Kelly signed a memorandum revoking Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants whose children are United States residents or citizens. Obama's plan was never formally implemented, having been blocked in 2015 by a federal district court, whose order was affirmed by a three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit in November 2015. Obama's Justice Department appealed the ruling, but the Supreme Court in June 2016 was deadlocked in a 4â4 tie, which left in place the Fifth Circuit's ruling.
Kelly's action formalized the end of the policy.
On December 5, 2017, Trump rescinded President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shielded and provided work permits for “dreamers”âillegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. In initially announcing the winding down of DACA, Trump said, “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents.” However, “we must also recognize that we are a nation of
opportunity because we are a nation of laws.” Thereafter three separate federal district courts blocked Trump's action. In November 2018, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to end Obama's dreamer program. Trump said it was up to Congress, not the executive branch, to establish immigration policy. Thenâattorney general Jeff Sessions said the 2012 order that created DACA was “an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”
As of this writing, the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue.
Early in his tenure as attorney general, Sessions instructed his deputies to prioritize the targeting of the transnational MS-13 street gang.
In September 2017, more than 3,800 members of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs in the United States and Central America were criminally charged as part of Operation Regional Shield, a coordinated law enforcement action.
In April 2018, defense secretary James N. Mattis authorized up to four thousand National Guard troops to be deployed on the southern border.
On February 15, 2019, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border in order to stop the invasion of illegal aliens, criminal gangs, and drugs. “We're going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border, and we're going to do it one way or the other,” said Trump, who was seeking to dedicate billions of dollars allocated to the Defense Department to building a border wall.
Another successful element of Trump's approach has been pressuring the Mexican government, which agreed to place six thousand national guard troops throughout Mexico and on its southern border to address the immigration crisis and human trafficking.
Such actions helped lead to a 56 percent drop in the number of illegal immigrants crossing into the United States from Mexico as of September 2019.
Despite Democrats opposing every inch of it, Trump has secured funding for about 445 miles of the 722 miles of border wall that he's requested, and under his leadership we've built more than one hundred miles of the wall, with much more under construction. The funding depends on Trump's national emergency and executive actions being
upheld in court challenges.
Sixteen states sued him in the Ninth Circuit, which issued a permanent injunction against the diversion of funds for construction of the wall,
though the Supreme Court later overturned the ruling. In a separate case, a U.S. district court in Texas issued a permanent nationwide injunction blocking Trump's use of $3.6 billion of Defense Department funds,
though that injunction too was lifted after an appeal.
In May 2019, President Trump announced an immigration plan for the twenty-first century, which consists of two components. One is the recognition that full border security is essential for our immigration system. The other is the creation of a new, merit-based, legal immigration system that protects American wages and safety net programs, prioritizes immediate families, and creates a “fair and transparent” immigration process.
In fiscal year 2019, the Justice Department prosecuted a record-breaking number of immigration-related cases. The U.S. Attorneys' Offices charged 25,426 defendants with felony illegal reentry in fiscal year 2019 (FY19), an increase of 8.5 percent from FY18. Almost 81,000 defendants were charged with misdemeanor improper entry in FY19, which increased the previous record of FY18 by 18.1 percent. And 4,297 defendants were charged with alien smuggling in FY19, an increase of 15.4 percent from FY18.
President Trump prioritizes combating human trafficking. Federal law enforcement, through the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) initiative, has more than doubled convictions of human traffickers and increased by 75 percent the number of defendants charged in ACTeam districts. ICE's Homeland Security Investigations arrested 1,588 criminals associated with human trafficking in FY18.