An executive order on religious liberty issued by President Donald Trump and the passing in the House of Representatives of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) brought disappointed responses from religious liberty campaigners and Catholic leaders.
Despite the fanfare around the signing of the executive order in the White House Rose Garden, critics charged that the order did not accomplish much. The president urged the Department of the Treasury not to enforce the “Johnson Amendment”, a law that bars non-profit organisations, including Churches, from endorsing political candidates or making contributions. The law, which remains on the books, was rarely enforced beforehand.
Similarly, in regard to the contraception mandate that has been the focus of litigation by Catholic agencies and institutions for seven years, the new order stated that relevant departments will consider issuing “amended regulations, consistent with applicable law”, to address conscience-based objections to what is mandated by Obamacare. But the Supreme Court had already instructed the Government and those suing it to devise amended regulations.
“The religious liberty executive order is meaningless,” stated Professor Robert George, a frequent advocate for religious liberty cases. “No substantive protections for conscience. A betrayal. Ivanka and Jared [the president’s daughter and son-in-law] won. We lost.”
Meanwhile the passing by the House of Representatives of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare prompted strong complaints from Catholic bishops and health ministries. “Even with efforts to improve the bill before passage, the American Health Care Act [The Republican replacement bill] still contains major defects, particularly regarding changes to Medicaid that risk coverage and affordability for millions; it is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded,” said Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of the committee on domestic justice and human development. “The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with [Obamacare].” Bishop Dewane urged the Senate to make major revision to the proposal.