Sign letter on religious freedom Print
Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

In recent years, I have written about the struggles of the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide the kind of health coverage that respects their faith and moral values.

I’ve also written about a car dealership in Minnesota that did not want to provide abortion-inducing drugs to its employees. “It has long been my conviction to run my business according to the teachings of my faith,” said Doug Erickson of Hastings Chevrolet.

Need for an executive order

These are just two instances where religious freedom has been imperiled.

One way to protect religious freedom is for President Donald Trump to sign an executive order promoting religious freedom.

This is an executive order that I can support, an order which the U.S. Catholic bishops have also been supporting. The bishops recently posted an online letter for Catholics to send to the president. I received it as an alert on my cellphone and in my email box.

You can sign the letter found at and hit a link to submit it to the president.

The bishops point out that “religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion.” They say that the president can “restore the federal government’s respect for the religious freedom of individuals and organizations” with an executive order that establishes a “government-wide initiative to respect religious freedom.”

Leaked draft

Catholic News Service (CNS) reported that a leaked draft version of a potential religious freedom executive order was circulating in the media and among federal staff and advocacy groups at the end of January.

When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the draft January 30, he said he would not get “ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue.” He noted that there have been “a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.”

Although Spicer did not elaborate on the leaked document, he told reporters that freedom of religion in the U.S. should mean “people should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal.”

The leaked draft states that “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the federal government into participating in activities that violate their consciences.” It also notes that people and organizations do not “forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education, or health care.”

Bishops’ wish list

In the online letter, the U.S. bishops offer a kind of “wish list” for an executive order on religious freedom which they say should include:

• Relief from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Currently, the mandate requires most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if the employer is morally opposed to such coverage. There is a very narrow exemption for churches.

• Preservation of tax-exempt status for nonprofit groups that hold beliefs based on marriage and human sexuality.

• The ability of religious organizations that partner with the federal government to act according to their beliefs regarding marriage, human sexuality, and the protection of human life at all stages.

• The ability of religiously affiliated child welfare providers to provide adoption, foster, or family support services for children that coincide with their religious beliefs.

• Conscience protections about abortion in the individual health insurance market.

Not just freedom of worship

Some view religious freedom in a narrow way as just pertaining to freedom of worship. However, the bishops say that any executive order should make it clear that this freedom should not just be about a person’s ability to freely worship but should include “the ability to act on one’s beliefs.”

The bishops also say that the executive order “should also protect individuals and families who run closely held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible.”

If you haven’t already, sign this letter and send it to President Trump encouraging him to protect religious freedom in our country.