1. Trump Signs Religious Freedoms Executive Order: Measure loosens limits on political activity by churches, removes contraception coverage mandate.

By Louise Radnofsky and Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2017, 12:35 PM

President Donald Trump signed an expansion of religious rights in a Rose Garden ceremony of prayers Thursday morning, offering some of the affirmations social conservatives have long sought.

With his pen, Mr. Trump rolled back restrictions on political activity by houses of worship and declared “that it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty” in an executive order that will also instruct agencies to waive for religiously affiliated employers a requirement that their health insurance plans include coverage for contraception.

“Not only are we a nation of faith, we are a nation of tolerance,” Mr. Trump said. “Today my nation is leading by example as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America… we will never ever stand for religious discrimination, never ever.”

The order addressed few other specifics, which was a significant blow for some activists who didn’t attend the ceremony. People familiar with the White House deliberations expect Attorney General Jeff Sessions will begin the process of setting new guidelines for how federal agencies must accommodate religious beliefs.

Among the potential areas of contention not immediately addressed: whether religiously affiliated health-care providers and social-services agencies must allow adoptions by same-sex couples, provide access to abortion or allow transgender people to use facilities for the gender with which they identify, rather than the one assigned to them at birth.


2. Trump signs executive order to ‘vigorously promote religious liberty’.

By Kevin Liptak, CNN, May 4, 2017, 12:14 PM

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that could allow churches and other religious organizations to become more active politically.

The order, which Trump inked during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, directs the IRS to exercise “maximum enforcement discretion” over the Johnson amendment, which prevents churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It also provides “regulatory relief” for organizations that object on religious grounds to a provision in Obamacare that mandates employers provide certain health services, including coverage for contraception.


3. Why shrink the big tent?

By Christine Emba, The Washington Post, May 4, 2017, Pg. A17

Is it possible to be a good progressive and oppose abortion? This long-simmering question was brought to the fore recently when Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced their support of Heath Mello, a candidate for mayor of Omaha who is also, inconveniently, antiabortion.
Under pressure from abortion rights groups, Perez quickly walked back his support for Mello and said that being pro-choice was “not negotiable” for Democrats. That reversal was in turn rebuked by a chorus of high-ranking Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.). In the end, Perez walked back his walk-back, announcing there was no litmus test after all.

But is there? Should there be? Increasingly, abortion opponents hear a resounding yes. The message they get from progressive activists and commentators, if not from Democratic Party leaders, is increasingly hostile: As much as the party professes to be a big tent, those who oppose abortion rights aren’t really wanted.

Movements need defining tenets to unite around. From there, individuals within the community can debate the best ways to achieve their goals. But the Democratic Party, and the progressive movement more generally, should be wary of replacing the goals of social and economic justice with the proxy of being pro-abortion rights. Flatly writing off antiabortion progressives alienates potential supporters of the larger cause, while narrowing the spectrum of discussion to the perspectives of a purist few.

Christine Emba edits The Post’s In Theory blog.


4. Saving Syrian and Iraqi Christians: Time is running out for the Middle East’s persecuted followers of the Cross.

By John Eibner, The Washington Times, May 4, 2017, Pg. B4

Persecuted Christians from around the world and their advocates and supporters will descend on Washington this month for the World Summit on Persecuted Christians. A three-day event sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the World Summit promises to attract the attention of senior political figures and generate welcome media attention.

According to the Pew Research Center, Christians are the world’s most widely persecuted faith community. The systematic oppression of Christians, ranging from nonviolent discrimination to acts of extreme violence, is taking place in more than 75 percent of the countries of the world. But persecution is most severe in the Middle East. The “religious cleansing” of Christians in Iraq and Syria is calamitous.

Alarmed by the hijacking of the “Arab Spring” by violent Islamist forces, my organization, Christian Solidarity International, issued a genocide alert for the Middle East in the autumn of 2011. We warned that conditions for the eradication of Christians and other religious minorities were rapidly multiplying throughout the region. By the end of 2015, Pope Francis labeled this reality in Iraq and Syria “a kind of genocide.”

Can the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians persuade the Trump administration to halt the acknowledged genocide of Christians in Syria and Iraq? If so, the conclave must go beyond repeating religious freedom platitudes and routine calls for the rapid military defeat of the Islamic State. It must challenge American policies that have helped create conditions for Christian genocide.

The World Summit should start by insisting that Washington desist from overthrowing governments unless it can guarantee the physical safety and religious freedom of the population it purports to “liberate.” 

The World Summit should also endorse the principles underpinning the Stop Arming Terrorists Act sponsored by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat, and Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican. This legislation, if passed, would prohibit the United States from arming and otherwise supporting the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and those that collaborate with them. Finally, the World Summit should appeal for an end to the collective punishment of ruinous economic sanctions.

John Eibner is CEO of Christian Solidarity International.


5. Rev. Paul Scalia, son of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, on faith and doubt.

By Joe Heim, The Washington Post, May 4, 2017, 7:00 AM

The Rev. Paul Scalia, 46, is a priest with the Diocese of Arlington and the author of “That Nothing May Be Lost,” about Catholic doctrine.

When your father [Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia] died last year it was a surprise to everybody. How has your life changed since his death?

I have a greater appreciation for who he was and for what he gave us as a family. I have brothers who are lawyers, and they probably appreciate his legal legacy more than I do. But for me it’s the legacy of his faith and what he gave us.

What does the Catholic Church in America need to focus on most right now?

The basics. Honestly, it is the simple proclamation of the gospel as the fulfillment for what people are longing [for]. Right now there’s a lot of confusion in our culture, and the clarity of the church’s teachings, and the constancy of those teachings, are a great way to ease anxiety and to help people realize the fulfillment that they long for and the peace that they long for. And that’s done not just by the preaching, but in the charitable works of the church and serving those who are materially poor, financially poor, spiritually poor. The unwed mothers, the women wounded by abortion, the elderly who are in need. All of that.

For lapsed Catholics, what is your best argument for coming back to the church?

Jesus Christ.