Trump’s Executive Order to Establish Religious Bias, or Simply Breed Animosity?

By Courtney Tobin

This Thursday, the National Day of Prayer, Donald Trump is reportedly going to sign an executive order to protect so-called religious freedom, according to Politico. Because executive orders are at the sole discretion of the president (within certain constitutional boundaries), the administration need not report on the exact language of the order ahead of time, and we will not be able to read a definitive copy of what he signs until it is entered into the Federal Register, possibly early next week.

And yet, news organization of varying levels of credibility have been writing about this all day, with headlines ranging from the detached (“Republicans in Congress push for religious liberty executive order,” – USA Today) to the terrifying (“Trump Reportedly Will Issue ‘License to Discriminate’ Order Thursday” – The Advocate).  All of their reporting is based off a 2-month-old version of the Executive Order, which is almost certainly not the one which will be signed.

The original draft of the Executive Order, which was leaked in full to The Nation in February, specifically protects the tax-exempt status of a very select group of religious organizations:

(e) The Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure that the Department of the Treasury shall not impose any tax or tax penalty, delay or deny tax-exempt status, or disallow tax deductions for contributions made under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3), or otherwise make unavailable or deny any tax benefits to any person, church, synagogue, house of worship or other religious organization…

(2) on the basis that such person or organization believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.

This language, if kept in the current Executive Order, clearly favors the religious groups aligned with Trump’s party. Would religious groups which value bodily autonomy and the life of a mother over the life of a fetus be similarly protected? Or groups which believe that one’s personal identity is not merely a reflection of their body and genetics, but a complex combination of one’s body, mind and soul? What about those who believe sex is sacred, but not necessarily something to be reserved for marriage?

(Never mind some the LGBTQ community whose very lives do not conform to some of the beliefs codified in the bill. Are our religious beliefs also protected, diverse though they are? What about our freedom to live our lives without fear?)

Should we be asking these questions at all yet? Our president is notably quixotic, known to bend to the loudest voice in the room before declaring the idea both beautiful and his own. Without up-to-date knowledge or clear information from the administration on the Executive Order, it’s impossible to tell how close this order will be to the original.

Also, as those more eloquent than I have pointed out, this language violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and would likely be thrown out if bought before a court. If included, it will is not likely to have the sweeping “protective” effect it is written to provide.

Instead, it will ignite another fight between the Right and the Left of this country, feeding the false dichotomy of “religious freedom” and “Women’s and LGBTQ rights.” Liberals, whether we are religious or otherwise, will fight against it, while conservatives will decry activist judges who stop the Order – and all the while, we will be pulled away from the real problems of economic inequity, unemployment, health care, and dozens of other issues where we may find solutions – or at least some middle ground. Even if this exact language isn’t in the order, a watered down version of it will have the same affect.

This seems to be the pattern of the Trump Administration: sow confusion, breed animosity, fail to effect change, repeat. Keeping the country divided helps them to win elections, as toxic as that environment is for the rest of us. Giving us things to fight about distracts us from concentrating on the fact that they are completely failing to govern – or worse, the foreign and domestic disasters they court.

The only way to fight it is to combat misinformation, find middle ground, and most importantly, don’t panic. Don’t run from the system in disgust and apathy. Stay informed, stay involved, and vote.