New president could signal intent in early days

Church and State
Michael Schuttloffel is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

by Michael Schuttloffel

The electoral earthquake that shook America on Nov. 8 revealed a political landscape that has been fundamentally changed.

Yet amid the excitement, amazement and hysteria over this new political alignment, it should be borne in mind that no federal laws or regulations were approved or repealed on election day.

That part — the important part — doesn’t just happen automatically. The work of making policy is still ahead, and it is a far different business than the making of campaign promises.

On his fourth day in office, President Obama overturned the Mexico City Policy, a ban on aid to groups that perform or promote abortion abroad. It was an action pregnant with both symbolic and substantive significance, sending a clear message about his priorities.

In the early days of his presidency, Donald Trump will have a similar opportunity to send a message about his intentions. Americans with traditional religious beliefs, having felt under siege by the culture, the media and their own government for the last several years, will be watching closely.

Swift reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy would be an excellent way to start. Then, before the ink is even dry on that directive, America’s new president should turn his attention to the plight of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Little Sisters are an order of religious women whose mission is to care for the poor elderly.

Shockingly, they have had to fight the Obama administration in court for years because the administration wants to force the Little Sisters’ employee health plan to provide contraception, sterilization and abortion- inducing drugs.

By substantially amending — or preferably just ending — the HHS mandate that has ensnared the Little Sisters, Hobby Lobby and countless other employers who simply want to be able to provide their employees with health care without violating their religious beliefs, the Trump administration would send a clear signal that the federal government again recognizes that religious freedom means more than a mere right to private worship.

It, in fact, means, among other things, the right to run a charity, a school, a hospital or a business in accordance with the religious beliefs of that organization’s people and mission.

Under the current administration, the federal government has been an eager combatant in the culture wars, whether it’s harassing high schools and universities over their bathroom policies, or trying to prevent states from defunding Planned Parenthood.

It is instructive that nowadays most federal heavy-handedness is the result of executive action, not actual laws debated and passed by Congress.

This is bad news for democracy, but good news for the Little Sisters and others in their predicament: On Jan. 20, 2017, their ordeal can be ended with the wave of a presidential hand.

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