Trump Administration: Favoring Freedom, Not Faiths

After eight years of Barack Obama, it must come as a shock to a lot of people that Christians are finally getting a fair shake from the White House. The country’s largest faith group spent the better part of a decade dodging blows – not just in speeches (like this doozy equating Christians to terrorists) – but in policies designed to drive them out of the public square. It’s no wonder Americans feel a little disoriented under an administration that shows Christianity more respect than reproach.

And while a lot of people would argue that President Trump’s tolerance was a long time coming, others aren’t so happy. In today’s Politico, a few human rights groups grumble that the administration is showing favoritism to Christians by trying to free Pastor Andrew Brunson or moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even the idea that the president would make international religious freedom a priority has rankled some – despite the fact that the State Department has poured as much energy into protecting Muslim minorities like the Rohingya as anyone. “The sense that human rights apply universally doesn’t carry weight with most people in this administration,” said Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch.

This Christians-first bias, as Politico called it, is ridiculous, fired back White House officials. “Helping persecuted religious minorities abroad is a top priority of the Trump administration,” one said, before calling the allegation “demonstrably false.” Maybe people are getting that perception because the Obama administration – and others – so rarely talked about the plight of Christians. It feels different because it is. It’s never been done with this level of openness and intentionality.

But just because the administration is focusing on Christians doesn’t mean it’s ignoring other faiths. The president’s policies have been incredibly even-handed. Obviously, such a dramatic course-correction from the Obama years doesn’t feel that way, but the truth is, Trump’s work on religious groups is more diverse than any administration before it.

FRC’s Travis Weber made that same point earlier today. “As one who has attended both the State Department’s Ministerial, and the DOJ Religious Freedom Task Force announcement, I can attest to the variety of faith backgrounds present – and to the fact that the policy and advocacy this administration presented advanced protections for all faiths equally. The only way one could come away with a different conclusion is if they simply had no interest in actually assessing the truth about the administration’s policies. If one was present at those events, and examines the policies behind them – such as that contained in the Potomac Declaration — the only reasonable conclusion is that the Trump administration is seeking to advance religious freedom around the world for all people — regardless of their faith.”

Just yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence took the opportunity to fire back at China for its crackdown on religion. “For a time, Beijing inched toward greater liberty and respect for human rights, but in recent years, it has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression…” There was a time, he pointed out, when we “hope[d] that freedom in China would expand in all forms – not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, religious freedom, and the entire family of human rights… but that hope has gone unfulfilled.”

Obviously, the Chinese government can’t stand the idea of a power to which its people owe a higher allegiance, and thus it severely represses religious freedom. But as Christians, we’re called to honor God above men. That’s why we advocate for the freedom of everyone to worship God as they see fit, and to freely live out their beliefs. I applaud the Trump administration for calling out the threat China poses for religious liberty. Whether they’re tearing apart Uighur families and indoctrinating them in internment camps, or its prosecuting Christians like Pastor John Cao, China needs to be taken to task. Thank goodness we finally have a president up to that challenge.

Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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