Evangelicals have drawn much criticism after a large majority of them voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, and as many evangelical leaders have acted as informal advisers to the administration. But with 2017 coming to a close, the administration has done much in its first year that conservative evangelicals are celebrating.
Going into the 2016 general election, Trump and his campaign made a concerted effort to reach out to evangelical conservatives, a voting bloc that was once skeptical of Trump in the primaries but grew to become one of his key bases.
Considering that he made many promises to evangelicals and social conservatives during the campaign, specifically in the areas of abortion, and religious and judicial nominations, let's take a look at seven Trump administration accomplishments that have been supported by evangelicals.
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1. Nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court
There was arguably no more important issue to conservative evangelical voters going into last November's election than appointing a staunch constitutionalist to fill a Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Evangelicals and social conservatives desperately wanted a justice to be nominated who could be counted on to side with conservatives in cases involving abortion and religious freedom. Many knew that if Democrat Hillary Clinton were to win the election, they would get the exact opposite and would further tilt the balance of the court to favor the political left's social agenda.
During the campaign, Trump vowed to nominate a strict originalist jurist and even produced a shortlist of nominees, a list that was praised by many conservative activists and pro-life leaders.
On Jan. 31, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge who had previously sided with Hobby Lobby against the Obama administration in a 2013 contraception healthcare mandate case. By April, Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate.
Gorsuch's nomination and confirmation was roundly praised by evangelical and social conservative leaders, even those who had expressed their concerns about Trump.
"He is a brilliant and articulate defender of constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia," Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement after the Gorsuch nomination. "His career is one that exemplifies the very best of intellectually robust conservatism, judicial restraint and faithfulness to the Constitution. I heartily support President Trump's excellent appointment."
2. Enacting an executive order on 'religious liberty'
On the National Day of Prayer in May, Trump gathered a number of the nation's leading evangelical and Christian leaders at the White House Rose Garden and signed an executive order on free speech and religious liberty.
Among other things, the order instructed the Department of Treasury and the IRS not to take adverse action against churches and 501(c)(3) nonprofits that speak out about moral and political issues in accordance with their faith.
The move was Trump's attempt at taking the teeth out of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bans tax-exempt nonprofits from engaging in political campaigning. It was a law that Trump had vowed to abolish during the campaign.
The executive order also called on the Department of Justice to issue guidance to federal agencies about how they can best protect religious liberty as it applies under federal law. The order also called on the Department of Health and Human Services to consider providing religious exemptions to an Obamacare contraception mandate that religious organizations felt violated their religious convictions.
"I think if you look at this order, it has the proposition that religious freedom will be protected and promoted. That is a significant change in not only the past two terms, frankly the last several presidents," Liberty Counsel's attorney Mat Staver told The Christian Post at the time. "[A] particular provision is directed by the president across the board in all the federal agencies and departments to protect and promote religious freedom in a rigorous manner. That is the CEO telling the department heads what the policy is for the company and now it's your task to implement it."
3. Justice Department guidance on religious freedom
Just as Trump had called for in his May executive order, Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October issued a sweeping guidance on religious freedom to all federal agencies.
As there is much debate surrounding the intersection of religious freedom and LGBT rights, Sessions' order states that "The Free Exercise Clause protects not just the right to believe or the right to worship; it protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one's beliefs."
The guidance also states that individuals and organizations don't lose their rights to religious liberty protections under federal law simply because of their employment status or their affiliation with any level government.
The guidance explains that agencies must not "second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief," adding that religious freedom protections apply "to all sincerely held religious beliefs, whether or not central to, or mandated by, a particular religious organization or tradition."
Sessions' guidance went on to add that religious freedom protections are not lost in situations in which religious exemptions could deprive a third party of a particular "benefit."
"Under the Obama administration, agencies lost the understanding that religious freedoms extend to the public square, not just one's place of worship. As a result, our own government began threatening hardworking, patriotic Americans with crushing fines for simply seeking to live their lives according to their faith," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement. "President Trump and the Department of Justice are putting federal government agencies on notice: you will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe but live according to those beliefs. This is a freedom that has been a fundamental part of our society since the beginning of our nation."
4. Giving religious organizations exemptions to the Obamacare contraception mandate
The announcement of Sessions' religious freedom guidance in October came shortly after the Trump administration announced two new federal rules that would allow nonprofits and for-profit businesses to make religious and moral objections to a Department of Health and Human Services Obamacare mandate requiring the coverage of contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs.
The decision came after a number of religious nonprofits (most notably Little Sisters of the Poor) filed lawsuits against the Obama-era mandate that they felt compelled them to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs. Although churches were exempt from the mandate, religious organizations (and even a group of nuns) had trouble getting the same exemption.
"President Trump is demonstrating his commitment to undoing the anti-faith policies of the previous administration and restoring true religious freedom," Perkins said in a statement. "Last May, the president ordered the federal government to vigorously promote and protect religious liberty – and now the DOJ and HHS are moving to make that order a reality."
5. Reversing Obama's transgender public school policy
Social conservatives were outraged in 2016 when the Obama administration issued a guidance to public school districts throughout the U.S. urging them to allow male students who identify as transgender to go into girls' bathrooms, locker rooms and showers, and vice versa. Many parents felt that Obama's policy infringed on students' privacy rights.
In February, Trump's Justice Department and Department of Education withdrew the Obama-era guidance.
"I'm very glad to see the Trump administration revoke these guidelines. This move is good for parents and good for families," Russell Moore said in a statement. "Children are not pawns of the state to be used to advance the latest fashionable 'right side of history' cause. Christians must continue to insist that the worldview of the sexual revolution harms men and women and advocate for the inherent dignity of all."
6. Reversing Obama order on federal contractors
In March, Trump revoked an Obama executive order that prevented federal contracts from being awarded to businesses, faith-based companies and nonprofits that have hiring practices that critics say discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Trump's decision to sign the order came after social conservative leaders expressed disappointment when Trump chose earlier on in his presidency to renew the order mandating that federal government contractors have LGBT anti-discrimination policies.
"It is a heartening demonstration of the president's commitment to fulfill his campaign promise to protect religious liberty," Abraham Hamilton III, a policy analyst at the American Family Association, told The Christian Post.
"American citizens should not be forced to abandon their faith in order to contract with the federal government. We hope this is an early indication that religious freedom protection will be a defining feature of President Trump's legacy."
7. Jerusalem proclomation
Most recently, Trump earned the praise of evangelical leaders when he announced earlier this month that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and that the U.S. Embassy would be moved there from Tel Aviv.
Although many around the world, including some U.S. allies and Middle Eastern Christian leaders, have condemned the move, it has pleased many American evangelicals.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told Fox News that the move was something that the U.S. "should've done a long time ago."
"This is where the Jewish state should have its undisputed capital," Huckabee said, calling it "the right thing to do."
Other evangelical leaders, such as James Dobson, offered their statements of praise.
"Throughout the years, I have had the great privilege of serving and advising political leaders at all levels of government, and yet, I have witnessed many promises made concerning Israel that were never fulfilled. With the decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, President Trump stands apart, once again demonstrating that he intends to keep his promises to the American people," Dobson said.
"I am greatly encouraged by this declaration and believe that America is always stronger when it stands firmly behind its allies, especially when it comes to the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Please join me in praying for continued wisdom for President Trump and this administration, and for a lasting peace in Israel and throughout the Middle East."
It's also important to note that while many Democrats are condemning the move, just six months ago they supported recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In June, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
With a vote of 90–0, both Republicans and Democrats in the upper chamber agreed that: "Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected."