— V.P. Mike Pence, Indianapolis, Indiana
V.P. Pence: Trump Administration Protects Religious Freedoms in Federal Government, and California’s Attorney General Files Lawsuits Against “Conscience” Rule
Vice President Mike Pence—in an Aug. 28, 2019, speech before seasoned war vets—touted a “new American strength,” specifically citing the Trump Administration’s record on freedom, increased military spending, improved operations in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and development of the fledgling U.S. Space Force.
But it was a three-word line about the Administration’s commitment to religious freedom that prompted a standing ovation, generating what the Indianapolis Star, (view article) described as possibly the biggest applause during his 30-plus-minute speech before the American Legion’s 101st National Convention.
“The Bible stays,” Pence declared before the Indianapolis crowd, familiar turf for the former Indiana governor.
Before tackling the issue of religious freedom, Pence dedicated a portion of his speech on matters impacting the VA, including improvements to healthcare, noting that 7,000 VA employees have been terminated for negligent behavior, and that medical wait times had dropped by a third.
“As we meet the healthcare needs of our veterans, let me make you another promise: This administration will always make room for the spiritual needs of our heroes at the VA as well.”
The vice president went on to share details of lawsuit filed against New Hampshire’s Manchester VA Medical Center for allowing a World War II Bible to be used as part of a Missing Man Table display. The Bible was originally removed from the display in January after a complaint, but was returned to the table in March after public pressure. USA Today reported that some people protested the Bible’s removal by dropping off even more Bibles at the facility.
In May, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed suit against the center. The group has been successful in getting the Bible removed from similar displays in at least three states.
“It’s really no surprise because, under the last administration, VA hospitals were removing Bibles and even banning Christmas carols in an effort to be politically correct,” the vice president said. “But let me be clear: Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones.
“We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith. And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays.”
Pence’s comments come nearly two months after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced new policy guidelines on religious symbols in displays at its facilities. The new directives seek to create a uniform policy at facilities nationwide and were prompted by numerous instances where religious expression was banned. Some facilities turned away Christmas carolers while others disallowed gifts, cards or gift wrapping if the phrase “Merry Christmas” was used.
“We want to make sure that all of our Veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a July 3 statement about the new policy. “Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal. These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”
The statement went on to explain that the policies “allow the inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities” and allow patients to request and receive sacred texts, symbols and religious literature. VA facilities are also permitted “to accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols at its facilities and distribute them.”
The policy change at the VA is just one of many imposed by the Trump Administration in its efforts to protect religious freedoms.
In May, President Trump vowed to withhold federal funding for healthcare facilities that failed to protect employees who refuse to participate in medical treatments on religious moral grounds, including, but not limited to, abortion, physician-assisted suicide and sterilization. Those rules, however, were placed on hold (view article), while a challenge by the state of California plays out in the courts.
Just last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced new rules (view DoL.gov rules) “clarify the civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government,” according to a department news release.
The order—which cited the high-profile Supreme Court cases Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores—instructs federal agencies to “protect religious exercise and not impede it.”
“In keeping with that rich history, the proposed rule would clarify that religious organizations may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government,” the statement said. “The proposal also reaffirms employers’ obligations not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or other protected bases and does not exempt or excuse a contractor from complying with any other requirements.”
Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said the new rules protect the civil rights of religious employers.
“As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law,” he said.
Other religious freedom actions taken by the Trump administration include “conscience protections” (view Washington Examiner article) that insulate employers from offering insurance for contraception treatments that violate their religious beliefs, free speech (view Daily Signal article) protections at colleges and universities and the establishment of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (view HHS.gov rule) in the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.