What to Know About the New White House Faith-Based Initiative

On May 3, religious leaders in the United States celebrated the National Day of Prayer. As a political event, the day has grown in influence — and this year was no exception.

President Donald Trump enthusiastically embraced his new role as a gatekeeper of “religious liberty” for Christian evangelicals and Catholics throughout the nation. And this year he offered even more opportunities to the religious right than ever before, with the establishment of the “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.”

So what exactly does this initiative declare? Here’s everything you need to know about the push for even more — Christian — religious power in the US government.

1. Religious organizations can no longer be excluded from grants because they discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation or religious grounds. 

The executive order reads:

The executive branch wants faith-based and community organizations, to the fullest opportunity permitted by law, to compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs, and other Federal funding opportunities. The efforts of faith-based and community organizations are essential to revitalizing communities, and the Federal Government welcomes opportunities to partner with such organizations through innovative, measurable, and outcome-driven initiatives.

2. Faith-based organizations will be working in more areas of public policy than ever before.

According to the executive order, a liaison from the Faith-Based Initiatives program will seek out “experts” for potential opportunities in “poverty alleviation, religious liberty, strengthening marriage and family, education, solutions for substance abuse and addiction, crime prevention and reduction, prisoner reentry, and health and humanitarian services.”

3. There will no longer be any opt-out if beneficiaries don’t want to be proselytized at.

USA Today reports:

The executive order repeals Obama administration rules limiting the ability of groups getting federal funds to preach to those they serve. Under the Trump order, faith-based groups will no longer have to refer beneficiaries to alternative programs if they object to the religious teachings.

4. Investigation tnto “religious discrimination” will intensify.

NY Mag explains:

In line with Trump’s loud-and-proud advocacy of the political views of conservative Christians, his new faith-based office will apparently focus on policing agencies to make sure there is no interference with participation by church-sponsored organizations, and no transgressions against the ‘liberty of conscience’ of believers. This is a term, of course, that both political and religious conservatives these days construe very broadly to sanction all sorts of exclusive and exclusionary demands, even in the use of federal funds.

According to Adelle Banks, who first reported the initiative, the office will “serve as a watchdog for government overreach on religious liberty issues.” It will be interesting to see if the watchdog growls, and if so, at whom.

5. LGBT groups fear direct and increased discrimination.

Samantha Allen of the Daily Beast reports:

“We’re very concerned because this administration has a pattern of inviting discrimination in the name of religion,” Camilla Taylor, director of Constitutional Litigation for the LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, told The Daily Beast shortly before the Rose Garden event.

Based on its reported description, Taylor said that the new faith initiative; seems to be “actively seeking out opportunities to facilitate discrimination.” (As details of the order were officially announced minutes later, Lambda Legal tweeted, ‘Yikes, y’all.’)

6. Religious liberty for Christians will likely lead to a loss of freedom for non-Christians.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State writes:

[O]ne thing is for certain — Trump is committed to allowing religion to be used to discriminate throughout the federal government and today’s order is just another way to implement this agenda. Religious freedom should be a shield to protect religion, not a sword to harm others. Trump and his Evangelical Advisory Board have this all wrong; they’re harming religious freedom, not protecting it.