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A weak defense of religious liberty

President Donald Trump’s order does not address key issues

Each week, The World and Everything in It features a “Culture Friday” segment, in which Executive Producer Nick Eicher discusses the latest cultural news with John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Here is a summary of this week’s conversation.

Evangelical pastors—reportedly about 50 of them—visited the White House on Wednesday night to celebrate the president’s religious liberty executive order, which he signed Thursday.

The order sets a general administration policy of protecting and promoting religious liberty, as well as directing the attorney general to provide guidance on the subject to federal agencies. It directs to IRS not to go after churches that get involved in politics and promises regulatory relief to religious objectors to Obamacare rules requiring coverage for abortion-causing drugs in health plans.

But many evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

“It was a disappointing executive order,” John Stonestreet said this week. “I am grateful that under this president we have been given a reprieve when it comes to an aggressive attack on religious liberty. But it’s not unreasonable for those who supported this president on the grounds of religious liberty to expect a little bit more.”

Stonestreet acknowledged the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits political endorsements from the pulpit, was not a useful law but said it wasn’t the most pressing religious liberty threat.

“The key issue of religious liberty is really not what can be said in the pulpit; it’s what can be done in the public square,” Stonestreet said. “It’s not whether pastors can endorse politicians, it’s whether everyday Americans can live and speak out of their deeply held convictions without fear of recrimination.”

The threats to religious liberty aren’t just coming from politics, though. Americans fundamentally misunderstand the role of religion in society, Stonestreet said.

“We’re not going to be able to preserve space for religious conscience and freedom of speech unless we do the cultural work to communicate the importance of religion in the public square,” Stonestreet said.

Listen to “Culture Friday” on The World and Everything in It.

Nick Eicher

Nick is chief content officer of WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. He has served WORLD Magazine as a writer and reporter, managing editor, editor, and publisher. Nick resides with his family in St. Louis, Mo.


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