On May 4, President Trump signed an executive order restoring religious freedom. It was fashionable to denigrate the order in some quarters; because Trump. To some of us, this was important because it set the tone of the administration and emphasized freedom of religion and not the Roosevelt-Obama formulation of “freedom of worship” which restricts religious practice to the precincts of a house of worship.
Today the Trump administration announced that it was going to eliminate the mandate for religious employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception if contraception conflicts with their religious beliefs.
On its website, the White House Office of Management and Budget said it is reviewing an “interim final rule” to relax the requirement, a step that would all but ensure a court challenge by women’s rights groups.
Mr. Trump signaled a change in direction on May 4, when he issued an executive order instructing three cabinet departments to consider amended regulations to “address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.” The order cites a section of the Affordable Care Act that refers specifically to preventive services for women.
Mr. Trump removed any doubt about his intentions when he signed the executive order that day. At a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, he celebrated the faith of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 178-year-old religious order that refused to comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.
The president invited the Little Sisters to join him on the dais, announced that they “sort of just won a lawsuit” and told them that their “long ordeal will soon be over.”
“With this executive order,” Mr. Trump said, “we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty.”
The new rule will fulfill a campaign pledge by Mr. Trump. “I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs,” he said in October in a letter to leaders of Roman Catholic organizations.
Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, welcomed the opportunity to re-examine the preventive-services mandate. “We will be taking action in short order to follow the president’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees,” he said this month.
In a logical world, this order shouldn’t be necessary. Even in a world so corrupted that a religious order that is bound by a vow of chastity, celibacy and, most importantly, continence is required to pay for birth control coverage, the decision shouldn’t be a major shock to the sensibilities. But anti-religious groups are already lining up to file lawsuits when the new rule is issued.
This action by OMB reflects a concrete commitment by the administration to keep the federal government from mucking about in religious organizations.