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Leaders Criticize President Trump's Executive Order On Religious Liberty


We're going to talk more about this executive order with Charles Haynes. He is director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum. Welcome to the program.

CHARLES HAYNES: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: You're welcome. This phrase, religious liberty, itself seems to be a really decisive one these days. Why is that?

HAYNES: Well, it's divisive, not decisive. And it's divisive because people now are using it in terrible ways. They're using it to fight one another instead of our long agreement on the meaning of it. So you even say religious liberty now in scare quotes in many media outlets, which is very disturbing.

MCEVERS: Well, we just heard from a conservative thinker who says it is - it's unclear why this order didn't contain some of those more controversial pieces that the draft order did, the draft order that was leaked earlier this year, namely religious exemptions for agencies that receive federal funds. What does it say to you that those provisions did not make it in?

HAYNES: Well, I think the blowback from the leaked draft was so great that the administration realized that to go forward with that would just be a political non-starter, an explosion because it really gave everything to one side and it didn't take anything into account about the rights of LGBT people, civil rights. It didn't - it just, in other words, declared victory for one side in this culture war. And I think they just decided that was too risky.

MCEVERS: What do you think the order actually accomplishes on the side of religious liberty?

HAYNES: Nothing. I mean this order doesn't change anything really. The IRS hasn't been enforcing the endorsement-from-the-pulpit regulation for a long time, and they're not likely to. So just instructing the IRS to do what it's doing now doesn't change anything.

You know, if they amend the Johnson Amendment in Congress and free up speech in some way, then that might change something for better or for worse depending on your point of view. And otherwise, it just advises his Cabinet secretaries to issue some regulations. We'll see what they are. But I think this was more an opportunity, a photo op, a chest-thumping that I'm in favor of religious liberty. But did it really change anything about religious liberty under the law - no.

MCEVERS: So the debate continues. I mean what do you think are the possibilities for some kind of compromise on this issue given that a lot of people on both sides do not seem to want that at this moment?

HAYNES: Well, I seem to be in the minority, but I think there's common ground possible. But it takes people on both sides recognizing the legitimate interests of the people on the other side. That's what America should be about.

They did it in Utah where the LDS leaders of the Latter-day Saints Church came together with gay rights advocates, with people in business community and then the state Senate, the Republican majority, and they worked out a compromise that protected religious liberty and guaranteed nondiscrimination in housing and the workplace for LGBT people. So if they can do it there and they have the - and they listen to one another, I think we can do it elsewhere.

MCEVERS: I mean that was a procedure that some LGBT proponents said wasn't the perfect compromise. And the idea was that - right? - that some government workers didn't have to, you know, perform procedures that they didn't necessarily want to. That wasn't seen as a win by everyone, right?

HAYNES: Well, that's true. The actual details of the compromise probably can't be replicated everywhere because Utah has its own history and its own laws, but the spirit of getting together and listening - certainly we can do that at least. And you know, protecting conscience while simultaneously making sure that LGBT people aren't discriminated against is really - should be our goal on all sides - right? - 'cause these are both two important American values - nondiscrimination and religious liberty. I'm for both. I think many Americans are for both.


HAYNES: But people on both sides seem to not want to listen to one another and find common ground.

MCEVERS: That's Charles Haynes. He's director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum. Thank you very much.

HAYNES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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