Thursday, May 10, 2018

While U.S. President Trump upholds religious freedom, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau increasingly restricts it


Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Fundamental Freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

When Stephen Harper was Prime Minister of Canada, he established an office to monitor religious freedom in other countries. He should have established an office to monitor and stand for religious freedom at home, which has been steadily diminishing in recent years, especially since the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, defeated Mr. Harper's government in the October 2015 federal election. Andrew Bennett, who was the envoy for religious freedom under Mr. Harper, is the latest to speak out against Mr. Trudeau's attack on the rights of Christians. As reported by Mike Blanchfield of Canadian Press, May 9, 2018:

OTTAWA — Canada’s former religious freedom ambassador says the Trudeau government is displaying “totalitarian” tendencies with its controversial changes to the student summer jobs program.

Andrew Bennett, who until 2015 was Canada’s only envoy devoted exclusively to religious freedom abroad, used the label repeatedly in an interview ahead of his launch today of a new religious freedom think-tank that he will be leading to stimulate public discussion on the role of faith in public life.

Bennett is kicking off that discussion with an attack on the Liberal government’s change to the Canada Summer Jobs program that requires organizations seeking funding to tick a box that attests to their respect for sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, and other human rights.

The government says it is not targeting beliefs or values but churches and other faith-based organizations say they are being forced to choose between staying true to their values and seeking grants to help them run programs — from summer camps to soup kitchens — that have nothing to do with abortion.

Bennett said the attestation compels people with no particularly strong religious views — the owner of a small construction company who just wants to hire a few seasonal workers, for instance — to take a moral stand on a divisive issue in order to apply for public funds.

“Whether you’re a person of religious views or a person who just doesn’t want to have an opinion, the government through this action is compelling belief,” Bennett told The Canadian Press.

“That has a certain totalitarian feel to it.”

If the government wants to foster a pluralistic society where diversity is truly respected, it has to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians, “even when those fundamental freedoms are exercised in a way that goes against what the government believes.”

Compelling belief is a “tendency that one can see in totalitarian societies,” he said because if the government links belief to specific values that define our country, “you’re saying person’s citizenship is not as valid, or you’re marginalizing them by saying, ‘you’re outside the tent’.”

Bennett said his view was formed by his experiences abroad trying to protect the religious freedom of persecuted minorities. While he says there is still more freedom in Canada, “totalitarianism can creep into liberal democracies and we have to be vigilant against that.”

His institute will be run out of Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank that Bennett joined when the current Liberal government closed his office at Global Affairs Canada in 2015.

As Canada’s religious freedom ambassador, his focus was on violations of religious freedom abroad.

Bennett is devoutly Catholic and an ordained deacon, but he insists neither his personal politics nor religion drive his work.

He said the institute will explore religious freedom issues across all faiths. There will be quarterly reports and academic-style papers. And he plans to have a symposium that looks at the nexus between religious and civil law that will encompass Halakah, the body of Jewish laws, Christian Canon law and Muslim Shariah law.

The previous Conservative government announced the creation of the short-lived religious freedom office during the 2011 federal election. It proved controversial, with some complaining it was too Christian-centric, or that it was an attempt to win domestic political support by targeting particular communities.

Contrary to the critics, Bennett said he was never close to the Harper Conservatives and remained a neutral public servant, adhering to the rules he followed since the start of his public service career in 2001.

Bennett said he took exception to being painted with the “blue brush” of being a Conservative partisan simply because the office was created by the party.

He says he’s voted for each major political party at least once and his political history has included being active in the Liberal party in university and campaigning for the NDP.

The Liberals ended Bennett’s job, saying they didn’t want to single out any particular aspect of human rights for special focus.

Bennett says he harbours no bitterness towards the Liberals and that he could have continued his career in the federal public service. But he went to Cardus because he wanted to keep working on religious freedom issues.

Still, he doesn’t like that the office became a political “hot potato,” something that sets it apart from a similar office run out of the U.S. State Department. That was created by Democrats, he noted.

The Clinton administration established it in 1998 and it was strengthened by Barack Obama before leaving office. The office enjoys bipartisan support in the U.S., said Bennett, who also divides his time with the Washington D.C.-based Religious Freedom Institute.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order protecting religious freedom, dated May 3, 2018 (bold in original):

"America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer."

President Donald J. Trump

A VOICE IN THE WHITE HOUSE: Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order to ensure that the faith-based and community organizations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the Federal Government.

. President Trump has signed an Executive Order entitled “Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” in order to:

. provide recommendations on the Administration’s policy agenda affecting faith-based and community programs;

. provide recommendations on programs and policies where faith-based and community organizations may partner and/or deliver more effective solutions to poverty;

. apprise the Administration of any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law; and

. reduce the burdens on the exercise of free religion.

. The Executive Order creates the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative within the Executive Office of the President.

. The Initiative will be led by the newly created position of Advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative (Initiative) and be supported by experts and various community and faith leaders from outside of the Federal Government.

. All executive departments and agencies that do not have Centers for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives will designate a liaison to the Initiative.

PRIORITIZING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: President Trump has made it clear that religious freedom is a priority throughout his Administration.

. In October 2017, the Department of Justice issued twenty principles of religious liberty to guide the Administration’s litigation strategy and protect religious freedom.

. In January 2018, the Justice Department announced a religious liberty update to the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, raising the profile of religious liberty cases and directing the designation of a Religious Liberty Point of Contact for all U.S. Attorney’s offices.

. In January 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced major policy changes protecting freedom of religion inside and outside of the government:

. forming a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, providing HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom; and

. proposing to more vigorously enforce twenty-five existing statutory conscience protections for Americans involved in HHS programs, in order to protect Americans who have religious or moral convictions related to certain health care services.

ONE NATION UNDER GOD: President Trump has publicly stood with people of faith and with those who advocate for the sanctity of life.

. This is the President’s third public event marking the importance of prayer, including attending the National Prayer Breakfast just two weeks after his inauguration.

. President Trump has declared several days of prayer, including a National Day of Prayer for the Victims of Hurricane Harvey and for America’s National Response and Recovery Efforts.

. On October 13, 2017, President Trump spoke at the Value Voters Summit.

. On January 19, 2018, President Trump became the first President to address the March for Life rally live via satellite.

. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the March for Life in 2017, becoming the first sitting Vice President to do so in person.

PROTECTING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Throughout his tenure as President, Donald Trump has been a champion for religious liberty in the United States, restoring the ideals that have undergirded our Nation’s freedom and prosperity since its founding.

. On May 4, 2017, the President signed an Executive Order to greatly enhance religious freedom and freedom of speech:

. taking action to ensure that religious institutions may freely exercise their First Amendment right to support and advocate for candidates and causes in line with their values; and

. ensuring that religious Americans and their organizations, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are not be forced to choose between violating their religious beliefs by complying with Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate or shutting their doors.

. The President has announced a reversal of the Obama administration’s policy and is allowing houses of worship to receive crucial disaster aid in times of crisis.

. The Trump Administration has taken a stand on behalf of religious liberty in the courts:

. it supported baker Jack Phillips’s right to operate his bakery in accordance with his religious beliefs.

PROTECTING THE SANCTITY OF LIFE: The President has been one of the foremost defenders of the sanctity of life in the history of the White House.

. President Trump quickly reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, which prevents $9 billion in foreign aid from being used to fund the global abortion industry and its advocates.

. President Trump signed H.J. Res 43 into law, which overturned the Obama administration’s midnight regulation prohibiting States from defunding certain abortion facilities as part of their family planning programs.

. President Trump’s Administration issued guidance to enforce the requirement that taxpayer dollars not support abortion coverage in Obamacare exchange plans.
According to blogger Vox Day, on May 6, 2018 (link in original):

Lest you think this is a mere exercise in meaningless bureaucratic symbolism, it's definitely alarming the right people.

The reader will notice in the following article the various religious groups represented at the National Day of Prayer, providing more evidence that the event is about politics rather than true Christian faith. For Christians to participate in such an event with non-Christians violates the scriptural command in II Corinthians 6:14 to "be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." Just which God are all these people praying to?

As reported by Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post, May 3, 2018:

Washington • President Donald Trump, in a Rose Garden ceremony, announced an executive order Thursday he said would expand government grants to and partnerships with faith-based groups.

A top faith adviser to Trump said the aim was a culture change producing fewer conversations about church-state barriers “without all of these arbitrary concerns as to what is appropriate.”

Trump has shrunk the infrastructure built by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the latter who created offices across most agencies with staff including dozens of people at the State Department.

Under Trump many of those staffs have been reduced and director positions left unfilled. However, he has expanded greatly the access to the White House of conservative Christians, evangelicals in particular, but also Catholics who feel alarmed by the growing legal tension between gay rights and conservative religious rights.

It was unclear if there were concrete changes that would come with the executive order, though Johnnie Moore, spokesman for the president’s evangelical advisory group — his only faith advisory group with regular access — said the initiative included an order to every department “to work on faith-based partnerships.” That, Moore said, “represents a widespread expansion of a program that has historically done very effective work and now can do even greater work.”

Moore mentioned an emphasis on faith-based partnerships focusing on prison reform, education, mental health and “strengthening families.” Faith-based groups have always been in such partnerships, but federal law requires that the government not show preference for one faith or put recipients in the position where they are essentially proselytized to receive care.

The ceremony was held on the National Day of Prayer and featured prayers from various faith leaders, including Jean B. Bingham, general president of the all-female Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“This nation has been given relative peace and prosperity and we humbly ask thee to watch over those in harm’s way, protecting our freedoms in the pursuit of happiness,” Bingham pleaded. “Bless those who lead this great nation with the empathy, insights and inspiration they need as they counsel together and sincerely strive to work in harmony. Help us in our request that we may be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. May each exercise integrity, humility and nobility of character and his or her sphere of influence.”

Other prayers came from Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Levi Shemtov, the longtime Washington leader for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, and also the rabbi where Jared and Ivanka attend services in town.

The office — which has its roots with the Clinton White House in the 1990s — has always faced legal challenges, as various groups jockey for resources and others focus on guarding constitutional protections against government-backed religion. Trump is the first to present such a homogeneous group of advisers and goals described in such a sectarian manner.

At the ceremony Trump said he’s responsible for people saying “Merry Christmas” more, and talking more openly about prayer. “Don’t you notice a big difference between two or three years ago and now? Now it’s straight up.”

Melissa Rogers, who served as executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships under Obama, said in a statement that protecting religious freedom should be a key aim of the government.

“At the event today, President Trump should retract and apologize for his call for ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,’” she wrote in an email. “President Trump should also pledge to respect and vigorously protect the equal rights of Americans of all faiths and none, including the rights of American Muslims to religious freedom.”

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who runs the policy-outreach arm for the Reform Movement, the largest segment of American Judaism, wrote in an email that he has “grave concerns” about the new order and its ability to let faith groups play a key role in government programs while also protecting “the rights all people, regardless of their faith. We have already seen efforts by this administration to undermine essential rules. . .thereby threatening religious liberty...”

...Faith-based offices were considered major announcements under the past three presidents. However, Trump’s expected announcement came as a surprise to many observers. It was absent from the White House daily schedule and some attendees said they were told only of the National Day of Prayer blessing and nothing of the executive order.

A similar version of the office was first created by President George W. Bush in 2001 with a mandate to partner with and serve as a resource to the faith community. The idea of the office was intended to put religious groups on equal footing with other nonprofit organizations when competing for federal funding, setting off a wave of criticism and questions about whether funding could breach a separation of church and state. Under the Bush administration, faith-based nonprofit organizations received federal grants totaling more than $10.6 billion.

Weeks into his presidency, Obama announced his version of the office at the National Prayer Breakfast, which kept Bush’s rules allowing faith-based groups to compete for grants and served as a liaison between religious leaders and the White House.

Since Trump took office, the director role of the faith-based office has been vacant, although some agencies have named faith-based-office appointees.

Among those attending the Rose Garden ceremony were: Southern Baptist Pastors Jack Graham and Ronnie Floyd; Focus on the Family founder and radio host James Dobson; and author and speaker Eric Metaxas.

Obama established about a dozen offices in various agencies and vastly expanded the number of staff members aiming for that same goal — connecting faith-based nonprofit organizations with the government in a fair way. Moore said for the agencies that don’t have a faith-based office — or a chief of that office — the same premise would be encouraged. He was, however, unable to give examples Wednesday of places where religious groups were unable to gain fair access.

A White House official told Religion News Service that those working on the initiative will inform the administration of “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law.”

A year ago, Trump issued an executive order on religious freedom that drew mixed reactions among religious conservatives. Several of his evangelical advisers praised him at the time, but many in conservative religious freedom advocacy circles said that the actual text of the executive order did not change much. An executive order, critics argue, doesn’t last long because the next president can come in and rescind it.

Congressional attempts to chip away at the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations such as churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates, have been unsuccessful, though in the garden Thursday Trump implied he had “prevented” the amendment.

Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who have been in a legal battle with the government over an Affordable Care Act mandate to provide employees with contraception, are still facing court battles. During a gathering last year in the Rose Garden, Trump told the nuns: “Your long ordeal will soon be over, OK?”

Moore said this new executive order is part of the White House’s broader efforts to promote religious freedom.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services announced new regulations and a new division responsible for handling complaints from health-care workers who do not want to perform a medical procedure such as an abortion or assisted death because it violates their religious or moral beliefs. The new office was seen by many as a win for conservative religious groups while critics worry that the language in the regulations could lead to discrimination.

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