Over 100 conservative leaders have signed a letter urging President Donald Trump to sign an executive order on religious freedom that will protect the rights of businesses and individuals to act in accordance with their religious convictions on marriage and sexuality without fear of government backlash.
The letter was sent to Trump on Wednesday by members of the Council for National Policy, a coalition of leading social conservative activists headed by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
"You are doing something rare in American politics. You are fulfilling campaign promises. We thank you, especially for the steps you have already taken in your young administration to uphold our First Freedom, the freedom of religion," a copy of the letter obtained by The Christian Post states. "We are writing to ask that you continue these efforts to defend religious freedom by issuing an executive order protecting the practical exercise of religious freedom."
The letter comes as it has been reported that a draft religious freedom order has circulated through the Trump administration.
The White House initially contended that the reported draft order was just one of hundreds of draft orders making their rounds in the administration and that the administration didn't have immediate plans to issue the order.
However, Ken Blackwell, the domestic policy chair of Trump's transition team, told The Huffington Post this week that the religious freedom order is still in the works and "in the process of redrafting."
In fact, The Huffington Post piece cited Blackwell as assuring that the prospect of the religious freedom order is "far from dead."
The Council for National Policy's letter explains that a number of policies and mandates implemented during the Obama administration have been destructive to the First Amendment rights of the American people and much-needed charitable religious institutions.
The letter lists the number of ways Obama's policies and state and local policies have and could negatively impact businesses and individuals:
"- Federal grantees like World Vision, the Salvation Army, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and Samaritan's Purse face the prospect of the government forcing them to violate their faith or give up their role serving the disadvantaged and poor around the world.
- Adoption providers such as Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities have been forced out of Massachusetts, Illinois, and D.C. because they are committed to placing needy children with a married mom and dad.
- The Obama administration's solicitor general declared before the Supreme Court that religious schools that fail to embrace the Court's redefinition of marriage could see their tax-exempt status fall into jeopardy.
- Schools like Gordon College and Brigham Young University Law School have had their accreditation come under scrutiny because of their beliefs about marriage, and the threat of federal action against religious schools remains.
- Service members like Navy Chaplain Wes Modder have been disciplined for counseling according to their Christian beliefs about natural marriage.
- The Little Sisters of the Poor as well as other religious groups and colleges have been forced under the HHS contraceptives mandate to choose between paying crushing federal fines or violating their deeply held beliefs.
- Family business owners around the country have been punished by state and local governments because of their religious views. Earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court affirmed the penalties imposed on florist grandmother Barronelle Stutzman for following her faith in the marketplace. She and others like her need to be assured that the federal government will not similarly punish them — whether through tax policy, denial of grants or contracts, or otherwise— because they act in accordance with their beliefs.
- Under a policy issued by the Obama administration's agriculture secretary, a USDA official threatened to remove all USDA inspectors if West Michigan Beef Company owner Donald Vander Boon didn't permanently refrain from placing in the company's break room religious literature supporting marriage between one man and one woman that the department deemed 'offensive.' The Vander Boons were forced to choose between their religious beliefs and having their plant closed and their employees left jobless. ..."
Listed as signatories to the letter are many prominent conservative activists, former office holders and other consevative thought leaders.
Along with Perkins, the letter was signed by James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and Family Talk radio; Ed Meese, the former U.S. attorney general under the late President Ronald Reagan; Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America; former presidential candidate Herman Cain; Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots; Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ; Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute, and many others.
"We urge you to take action to ensure their freedom to believe and live out those beliefs is protected from government punishment," the letter states. "We, in the conservative movement, stand ready to assist you in your efforts to protect and uphold the freedom of religion in America."
Many on the Left have been critical of plans to issue an executive order on religious freedom and claim that it would give conservative Christians a license to "discriminate" against the LGBT community.
Over 400 left-leaning Christian leaders signed onto a letter that was sent to Trump on Jan. 31 that urged him not to sign a religious freedom order. The effort for the letter was headed by LGBT activist groups like American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, Center for American Progress, Movement Advancement Project, Freedom for All Americans and Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights.
"Federal policies that allow for discrimination against LGBT people violate basic human rights and dignity, as well as the belief shared by millions of Americans — that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens," the letter states. "We believe that the path to national unity lies in affirming the full equality and potential of every person. In the spirit of equality, fairness, and justice, we urge you not to add a discriminatory religious exemption to the Executive Order or to other federal policies."