WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Speaking May 2 at a National Day of Prayer ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump announced two major steps forward for the free exercise of religion in the United States.
A new rule will expand the option of health care workers to opt out of procedures directly at odds with their religious faith. The president also issued an executive order to relax rules governing political speech by nonprofit religious groups.
The Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care (PSCRHC) rule puts teeth in Trump's 2017 executive order, which sought to reverse erosions of health care providers' conscientious objections and provide regulatory relief to those who choose to exercise their respective deeply held religious beliefs.
Most recently, such religious freedoms were abrogated under restrictive mandates specified within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.
Religious freedom prompted several court cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court's Little Sisters of the Poor Home of the Aged v. Burwell and Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which failed to definitively resolve the issue whether businesses other than churches could be exempted from providing health insurance covering contraceptives for female employees for religious reasons.
As noted by Madeline Osburn at The Federalist, the PSCRHC expand upon Trump's 2017 executive order "by allowing the existing laws protecting conscientious objections previously passed by Congress to be fully enforced as any other civil rights violation."
Osburn added PSCRHC "also specifies that hospitals or entities who receive federal funding from HHS must certify that they are in compliance with OCR" by which she referred to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights. The OCR is a division within the Department of Health and Human Services, which established the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in 2018 to investigate claims of religious freedom violations.
The 440-page PSCRHC puts legal onus on hospitals and other health care organizations who fail to comply with the expressed religious objections of employees refusing to participate in such procedures as abortions, sterilization and euthanasia:
Referral to the Department of Justice. If as a result of an investigation, compliance review, or other enforcement activity, OCR determines that a recipient or sub‐recipient is not in compliance with the Federal conscience and antidiscrimination laws or this part, OCR may, in coordination with the relevant Department component and the Office of the General Counsel, make referrals to the Department of Justice, for further enforcement in Federal court or otherwise. OCR may also make referrals to the Department of Justice, in coordination with the Office of the General Counsel, concerning potential violations … for enforcement or other appropriate action.
Trump also signed an executive order that significantly curtails Internal Revenue Service enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a provision that has been imposed since 1954. The Johnson Amendment prohibits churches and nonprofit organizations from participating in political campaigns or endorsing political candidates. Failure to comply would result possibly in revocation of the organizations' tax-exempt status.
Trump said, "Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation. ... We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore."
"We are giving our churches their voices back," Trump declared.