Conservatives don’t need to prove the existence of the war on faith anymore — HHS did it for them! After years of pooh-poohing the crackdown on Christians, the other side will have a much harder time now, thanks to the agency’s new division in the Office for Civil Rights.
After eight years of weaponizing the government against men and women of faith, President Trump is demanding a unilateral disarmament — starting with one of the leading offenders, Health and Human Services. In January, it wasn’t just the start of a new year, but a new era in protecting religious liberty. The administration announced a bold new initiative, aimed at turning the government from an enemy of freedom to an ally. Starting in 2018, it would open an office dedicated to stopping the assault on conscience.
Two months into the idea, the job is turning out to be bigger than anyone envisioned. Now that Americans have a president they can trust and a place to confide, more victims are stepping out of the shadows to tell their stories. Complaints are pouring in to the agency about violations across a full spectrum of services: health care, medical care, adoption, child care, and more. Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is surprised but encouraged. At least the system is working.
“We have made a commitment to vigorously and fairly enforce laws protecting conscience and religion that had been given second-class treatment for too long,” he told CQ. “The surge in complaints shows that the American people are responding to our new openness.” It also shows something else: the problems are deeper than people thought. “Less than two months into 2018, OCR is already nearing the total combined conscience and religion complaints in all of 2017.” Last year, before a special division was established, OCR was on the receiving end of 464 conscience and religious-related complaints. Right now, that number has already hit 345! (And, one official points out, that doesn’t include any filed by mail.)
Obviously, the hostility toward religion is so deeply engrained that it will take years to weed out the abusers and clean up the toxic environment that has stunted our First Freedom. And here’s the ironic part: until President Obama, the freedom to believe was never a controversial idea. It was such a consensus issue, in fact, that after the Supreme Court invented legalized abortion in 1973, Congress responded by passing a law to protect health care workers from the very discrimination they’re facing today. Even Senator Ted Kennedy defended the bill’s “full protection to the religious freedom of physicians and others.” Only two members objected.
Suddenly, under the Obama administration, that all changed. Instead of demanding compromise and coexistence, the other side exchanged its sham of tolerance for full-blown government forced coercion. Now, almost a decade later, the mess is titanic. Longtime grievances can finally be aired. Before Trump, most people who were affected by Obamacare, taxpayer-funded abortion, or gender identity knew that if they complained it would only make them bigger targets. What a refreshing change for them to know that the government that was once their oppressor can now be their defender.
Let’s hope the White House recognizes the good work of OCR and moves to replicate it in other places across the administration. Until then, this is another important reminder that elections have consequences. In this case, positive ones.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.