The religious right is more emboldened under Donald Trump’s presidency than it has been in recent memory, thrilled by his Supreme Court nomination, his cabinet appointments, and his parroting of claims that religious freedom is under siege by the forces of political correctness.
Based on his first few weeks in office, Christian-right activists are expecting that the president who owes them bigly for his surprise win will take a battering ram to the wall separating church and state.
The scope of their aspirations was revealed in a leaked draft executive order, obtained by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute and published at TheNation.com, that shocked constitutional scholars with its staggering breadth. The draft order—whose authenticity has not been disputed by the White House—would create unprecedented exemptions based on religious or purely “moral” objections to a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and even private activity, such as getting an abortion or having sex while unmarried. Such an order would be Hobby Lobby on steroids, creating an opening for almost anyone—government workers, federally funded social-service organizations, small-business owners, and more—to refuse to hire, serve, or provide public accommodations to others merely by citing one’s religious beliefs. By sanctioning such discrimination, the order would create a government rubber stamp for a particular religious view, in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Religious-right leaders were quick to react with effusive praise, expressing confidence that Trump, despite progressive objections—or, perhaps, because of them—would sign the order. Ryan Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a vociferous opponent of marriage equality, called on Trump to “stand up to the liberal outrage and hostility to ordinary American values that fueled his rise in the first place,” hailing the order as “good, lawful public policy” that fulfills Trump’s campaign promises to religious conservatives. Bryan Fischer, the incendiary American Family Radio host known for his unabashedly homophobic views, called the draft order a “masterpiece” and wrote that if Trump signed it, he would “flip the script” on the “radical homosexual agenda,” allowing “religious liberty [to] now triumph over sexual deviancy for the first time in nearly a decade.”