Countless American believers in the Bible, myself included, were inspired tremendously on Monday when President Trump stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House, and held up the Word of God for all to see.
The historic church was boarded up after rioters set fires there the day before, in an act which made even many on the Left incredulous.
The president’s likely opponent in the November elections, Democrat Joe Biden, was not among those who were inspired. Instead, tone-deaf as he is to the American people and the things of the Spirit, he said the president’s appearance outside the church shows he “is more interested in power than in principle.”
Some religious leaders found it “baffling and reprehensible” that the St. John Paul II National Shrine would allow the president to visit with First Lady Melania Trump, who is Catholic.
Actually, the opposition to the President’s actions is baffling. Every religious leader should be cheering the president’s expression of faith and commitment to religious liberty.
Before the nation became engulfed in violence sparked in part by the death of George Floyd and in large measure by unrelated agendas of violent agitators, the president had planned to sign an executive order on international religious freedom at the John Paul II Center.
“This was fitting,” according to a statement on the Shrine’s Twitter page, “given John Paul II was a tireless advocate of religious liberty throughout his pontificate.”
President Trump, too, is committed to preserving religious liberty in our nation and in the world but that one unassailable fact is conveniently overlooked by his critics.
Trump has been a tireless advocate for religious freedom during his presidency, beginning with an executive order close to my heart that he signed during a Rose Garden ceremony in May 2017, just over three months into his term. My colleague Alveda King, who leads our Civil Rights for the Unborn outreach, was there to represent Priests for Life.
That order, signed on the National Day of Prayer, loosened restrictions on the Johnson Amendment, which had been needlessly silencing clergy since 1954. President Trump’s Department of Justice backed that up with a memo to the Internal Revenue Service in 2018, ordering agents not to enforce the Johnson Amendment.
The order also took the side of Priests for Life against the Obama mandate that every employer must provide abortifacient drugs and devices to their employees. Priests for Life was among dozens of petitioners who challenged that Obama mandate all the way up to the Supreme Court. In 2018, HHS finalized a rule that protected faith-based organizations from that mandate.
Also in 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. President Trump created the office to protect the conscience rights of health-care workers whose religious beliefs do not allow them to take part in abortion or assisted suicide.
In 2019, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs allowed Bibles on their premises once again. Also that year, the president lifted a ban on providing federal funds to faith-based black colleges and universities.
The president has also endorsed Bible literacy in public schools, defended the rights of students to pray, and defended faith-based adoption agencies that have been under attack for declining to place children in same-sex households.
He has looked at every place in our society where religious liberty is threatened, and taken steps to protect it. I have lost track of the number of special actions President Trump’s Administration has taken to make the federal government and public life in general more hospitable to citizens and organizations of Faith.
It is absolutely refreshing and inspiring.
He continued those efforts this week.
On Tuesday, as his visit to a Catholic shrine was being decried in the media, President Trump signed an order that would prioritize religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.
This is a president committed to preserving and protecting the religious liberty every American is guaranteed under the First Amendment, and that everyone in the world is guaranteed by their human dignity.
Did President Trump have the right to hold a Bible aloft in front of a church? You bet he did.
The Democrats, and their media mouthpieces, have gone too far in criticizing the president over what they called a stage-managed photo op. Yet this kind of criticism is more and more characteristic of their party and its leaders.
In 2015, failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton infamously said that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” (emphasis mine). These Democrats want to change people’s religious beliefs, and they think they have to right to do that.
In his failed bid for the Democrat nomination for 2020, Beto O’Rourke said churches that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. In other words, toe the non-Biblical party line or else!
Biden says he’s a Catholic, goes to Mass on Sunday, and believes that mothers should be able to have their children killed up until their due dates and that U.S. taxpayers should pay for it! During his lackluster campaign, Biden has said “We are in a battle for the soul of this nation.”
On this point he is absolutely right. And winning that battle demands keeping these morally misguided Democrats out of office.
Father Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life.