1. Religious Liberty Reincarnation: Trump’s executive order doesn’t live up to its hype or criticism.

By The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2017, Pg. A14, Review & Outlook

On Thursday President Trump signed an executive order that says his Administration will “honor and enforce” First Amendment protections for religious freedom. The order includes overtures to a “vibrant public square” in which people are free to practice religion “without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government.”

Many on the right are upset that the order omitted broad protections for, say, Catholic adoption agencies or a Christian baker who declines to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. More explicit language seems to have been rinsed from a February draft of the order that leaked to the press. Such concessions have not placated the left, which is pitching the Trump order as a license to discriminate against the LGBT community.

The lesson for Republicans is that no matter how anodyne a statement, the cultural left will never tolerate assertions of freedom that threaten their increasing intolerance for traditional religious views. The GOP should skip the grand gestures and stick to the fights that matter: The best thing President Trump has done for religious liberty is put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.


2. Trump Signs religious Rights Order.

By Louise Radnofsky and Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2017, Pg. A3
(Appeared in 5/4 edition)

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.

3. Trump to Visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.

By Carol E. Lee, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2017, Pg. A8

President Donald Trump said he plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican this month, a trio of stops meant to send a symbolic message of unification and common cause on his first trip outside the U.S. since taking office.

While in Rome, Mr. Trump will have an audience with Pope Francis and meet with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, officials said.

The timing of Mr. Trump’s visit to Vatican City is similar to his recent predecessors. President Barack Obama visited in July of his first year in office. President George W. Bush had an audience with the pope in Vatican City during his second year in office, though he had met with him the year before while attending a summit in Italy.


4. House votes for provision to defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

By Sandhya Somashekhar and Paige W. Cunningham, The Washington Post, May 5, 2017, Pg. A6

The health-care bill passed by the House brought Republicans closer to their goal of erasing Obamacare from the books. But it also revived another long cherished aspiration: cutting off the flow of federal funds to Planned Parenthood.

A provision in the bill temporarily blocks the 100-year-old nonprofit women’s health organization and abortion provider from participating in the Medicaid program.

It is far from certain that the measure will become law, as it must still pass the Senate, where both the Planned Parenthood provision and the larger bill are likely to encounter stiffer political and procedural obstacles.

But it represents a significant, initial victory for conservatives who have long sought to undercut the country’s largest abortion provider and who had extracted a promise from President Trump during his campaign that he would sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood.


5. Trump’s Order on Religious Liberty Pleases Some, but Lets Down Conservatives.

By Laurie Goodstein and Michael D. Shear, The New York Times, May 5, 2017, Pg. A22

President Trump signed his long-awaited executive order on religious liberty Thursday with a full-throated reassurance that he would protect the freedom of American believers. But the reactions of religious leaders across the country suggested that it instead promised freedoms many of them did not want — and failed to deliver concrete legal protections that conservatives had been led to expect.

The centerpiece of the order is a pledge to allow clergy members and houses of worship to endorse political candidates from the pulpit, fulfilling a campaign promise that Mr. Trump repeatedly used to rally his most fervent supporters. Public opinion polls show, however, that neither the American public as a whole nor religious leaders in particular — even evangelicals, who voted for Mr. Trump in droves — think that partisan politicking by churches is a good idea.

The order was also a stinging disappointment for conservative religious leaders who had expected that it would exempt their organizations from Obama-era regulations aimed at protecting gay people from discrimination.

The executive order does not mention anything about relief for religious groups and charities that object to serving or hiring gay, bisexual or transgender people, and that were looking to Mr. Trump for legal cover.

The reaction from opponents was also telling. Two groups that had threatened to sue the White House over the new order, the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Citizen, backed off after seeing the text. Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U., called the signing of the order “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”

The executive order pleased the Roman Catholic nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who took their fight against the contraception mandate to the Supreme Court. The Obama administration had offered the Sisters a waiver to remove themselves from direct involvement in covering contraception, but the Sisters said it still violated their religious beliefs. The nuns and some conservative religious groups contend that some contraceptives induce abortions, and the mandate has been challenged in multiple court cases.

Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, a law firm that represented the Little Sisters, said Thursday: “We’re very happy with the order today. The only way we’d be disappointed is if the agencies did not carry it out.”


6. Church leaders say EU countries ignore pledges on religious freedom.

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service, May 5, 2017

The secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences has criticized the lack of commitment on behalf of members of the European Union in the implementation of religious freedom guidelines set in 2013. “Freedom of religion is an absolute principle, and diplomatic and economic pressure should be used to defend it,” he said.

Monsignor Duarte Nuno Queiroz de Barros da Cunha, secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, told Catholic News Service that the Swiss-based organization, grouping 39 European bishops’ conferences, was disappointed by a lack of action since the guidelines were enacted.

“If officials talk about religious freedom, they usually do so abstractly and seem afraid or ashamed to name the communities actually suffering, especially in the Middle East,” he said.


7. USCCB President: Today’s Executive Order Begins a Process.

By USCCB, May 4, 2017

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued a response to President Donald J. Trump’s executive order signed this morning.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Today’s Executive Order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate. We will engage with the Administration to ensure that adequate relief is provided to those with deeply held religious beliefs about some of the drugs, devices, and surgical procedures that HHS has sought to require people of faith to facilitate over the last several years.  We welcome a decision to provide a broad religious exemption to the HHS mandate, but will have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.

In recent years, people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.  For example, in areas as diverse as adoption, education, healthcare, and other social services, widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility — and penalized accordingly. But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity.

We will continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith.  Religious freedom is a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims.  As president of the Bishops’ Conference, I had the opportunity to meet with President Trump this morning in the Oval Office to address these and other topics.”


8. Slum pope/billionaire: Francis to meet with President Trump.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, May 4, 2017, 4:09 PM

When Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump at the Vatican at the end of this month, the world will be watching how the Argentine “slum pope” interacts with the brash, New York billionaire-turned-president.

Despite their obvious differences, Trump and Francis share a populist bent. Both were elected on reform mandates and speak with a simplicity that has endeared them to their bases. And both share a common concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic militants.

Francis hasn’t commented on Trump’s presidency other than to say, on the day of his inauguration, that he’d take a wait-and-see approach. But Francis has railed against the “false forms of security” promised by populist leaders who want to wall themselves off and has called for world leaders to seek a future of greater solidarity.

The Vatican and the White House have often had different views over the years. During the previous two papacies, divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality often defined relations between the White House and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — which then carried over to U.S.-Holy See relations.

But the two always found ways to collaborate, promoting initiatives to fight human trafficking and working to bridge the U.S. detente with Cuba.

U.S. bishops did strongly challenge the Obama administration’s health care mandate requiring insurance coverage for birth control. Trump on Thursdaysigned an executive order promising “regulatory relief” for groups with religious objections to the requirement.


9. A Half Measure on Religious Liberty.

By The Editors, National Review, May 4, 2017, 6:00 PM

In response to the ongoing federal assault upon Americans’ religious liberties, President Donald Trump has responded with an executive order that will entrust these liberties to the discretion of IRS agents. 

Maybe this one needs a bit more thought.

First, the president purports to, as he put it, “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” a law that forbids tax-exempt religious organizations to endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit. While religious organizations already enjoy the right to advocate and agitate in the political arena, the Johnson Amendment represents a free-speech restriction that is almost certainly unconstitutional, at odds with a tradition of First Amendment jurisprudence barring the linkage of government benefits to the restriction of unrelated constitutional rights. The problem, which President Trump does not quite seem to comprehend, is that an executive order cannot simply overturn a piece of legislation.

Instead, President Trump will initiate President Barack Obama’s approach to illegal immigrants and simply order that “prosecutorial discretion” be expanded and codified in such a way as to categorically forbid enforcing federal law. Given the recent history of the IRS and its willful harassment of conservative groups, we are skeptical that this will prove a fruitful approach. 

It does purport to provide “regulatory relief” to businesses with owners who object to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, a regulation that remains in full force. With a Supreme Court decision on its side (in Hobby Lobby), the administration surely could craft something more specific and more meaningful than a vague promise of “regulatory relief,” whatever that is intended to mean. Again, this falls short of what actually needs doing, which begins with the full repeal of the regulation in question, something that is within the power of the executive.

The president owes it to his voters, his party, and his country to forge and fight for a coherent legislative agenda — which is to say, to do the hard work of being president. Signing a series of shoddy, shallow, and largely symbolic executive orders will not get the job done. 

Get to work, Mr. President. You do not have all the time in the world.


10. Priests, Nuns, Pro-Life Leaders Give Thanks for Trump’s Executive Order.

By Craig Bannister, Catholic News Service, May 4, 2017, 3:59 PM

Surrounded by nuns, clergy and religious freedom leaders at a White House ceremony Thursday, Trump signed an executive order designed to protect free speech and save Americans from being forced by government to violate their religious beliefs.

“This Order is an important step in safeguarding the right of every Americans to have their religious beliefs protected in their day-to-day lives.” – Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation

“The United States has long been admired the world over for our broad-minded tolerance and inclusive pluralism, where individual conscience rights and religious sensibilities are not just allowed but celebrated. 

“More recently, however, too many Americans—like The Little Sisters of the Poor— have found that working and living in our country increasingly requires lock-step adherence to popular or majority opinions and ideology.  Mr. Trump’s Executive order, however, remains a first step.” -Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association


11. ‘We’re Giving Churches Their Voices Back’: Trump Signs Exec. Order Protecting Religious Freedom.

By Crystal Woodall, CBN News, May 4, 2017

President Donald Trump marked the National Day of Prayer by signing an executive order designed to protect and promote religious liberty.

“Today’s executive order provides welcome relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been threatened with discriminatory government fines that would shut down their beautiful ministry of caring for the elderly poor,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the The Catholic Association.

“We applaud the Trump administration for taking an important step to protect conscientious objectors like the Little Sisters of the Poor who faced millions of dollars in fines for refusing to violate their deeply held beliefs,” Catholic Association senior fellow Ashley McGuire said.

“However, there is more work to be done to restore broad protections for people of all faiths in health care, business, education, and countless other fields who face harassment, bullying, and lawsuits because of their faith,” she continued. “The American people want strong protections for religious liberty.” 


12. Three Popes’ Preparation for Pope Francis’ Visit to Fatima.

By Fr. Roger J. Landry, The Anchor, May 5, 2017

Next week Pope Francis will travel Fatima to celebrate the centenary of Mary’s apparitions to the three shepherd children in the Cova da Iria. There’s every reason to think that Pope Francis will be at his most joyful because he will have a chance there to do and speak about several things he cherishes most.

He’ll be able to express his love for the Blessed Virgin, which he does routinely at St. Mary Major Basilica before and in thanksgiving after every foreign trip. He’ll be able to reiterate for us the importance of prayer and make a strong invitation for us anew to pray the Rosary, as he’s done repeatedly in Angelus Meditations in St. Peter’s Square. He’ll have the opportunity to repeat his calls for prayer and work for peace, echoing Mary’s call to and through the pastorinhos. He’ll have the chance to focus on the importance of consecration to Mary, something he mentioned throughout the Year of Consecrated Life held two years ago. And in canonizing Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who will become the two youngest non-martyred saints in Church history, he will be able to reinforce themes he articulates each year on World Youth Day with regard to the important role of young people in God’s plans and how all people, no matter how the young, are called to holiness.

It will be the sixth visit of a successor of St. Peter to Fatima. Reflecting on the first five is one of the best preparations to get us ready for the sixth.

The first took place on May 13, 1967, the fiftieth anniversary of the first apparition, when Blessed Paul VI … made a five-and-a-half hour visit before returning to Rome. He came to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Mary’s appearances and Silver Jubilee of Pope Pius XII’s consecration of the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. He said he was there to pray specifically for two intentions: for peace and renewal in the Church, after some of the ecclesial craziness and chaos that followed the Second Vatican Council that would only worsen after the publication of Humanae Vitae the following year; and for peace in the world, that through our prayer and penance according to Mary’s direction, we would see triumph of love and victory of peace.

St. John Paul II visited Fatima three times, each on May 13, in 1982, 1991, and 2000.

John Paul II believed that Mary’s hand and Jacinta’s prayers and sacrifices for the “poor holy father” saved his life from certain death after Agca’s bullet pierced five vital organs. In his visit, he sought to help the Church and world grasp the “basic nucleus” of the Fatima message, Mary’s solicitous, strong, decisive, loving, maternal call to repentance through prayer — especially of the Rosary — for the conversion and salvation of sinners. Consecrating ourselves to Mary, he stressed, means to accept her help and prayers as we entrust ourselves to the pierced heart of her Son. In the 65 years since Mary appeared, he said with concern, rather than heeding Mary’s summons, many have gone in the opposite direction, allowing sin to make a home in their hearts and world. For that reason, Mary’s call to conversion, he emphasized, was even “more relevant and urgent” than in 1917.

In 1991, he called Fatima a constant reference point for living the Gospel. … He exhorted all of us to “persevere in devotion to Mary.”

In the Great Jubilee of 2000, St. John Paul came to beatify Francisco and Jacinta in the presence of their cousin and fellow seer, now Servant of God Sr. Lucia dos Santos. He focused on the totality with which they responded to the Mother of God, offering themselves as victims of reparation to console Jesus and atone for sins. He urged us to follow them in enrolling in Mary’s “school,” the sacred academy that helped them become “saints so quickly.”

The fifth Papal visit was in 2010, when Pope Benedict came as a pilgrim to initiate seven years of preparation for the centenary. … Mary, he stressed, wants to help the Church “relearn” penance, purification, forgiveness and justice.

He added that “Fatima and the Rosary are practically synonymous,” and urged us in praying the Rosary to imitate the “amazing” entrustment of the shepherd children and like them allow the mysteries of Christ attract us by fixing the gaze of our hearts on Jesus like Mary did.

As Pope Francis and the Church throughout the world makes a physical or spiritual journey to Fatima next Saturday, we turn together to that guiding Mother and ask her not only to help us imitate the docility and devotion of Francisco and Jacinta, but to guide us maternally to the fulfillment of that pilgrimage where we hope to enjoy åher, and their, and God’s loving friendship for ever.