By: Jared Dobbs
They say that Lyndon B. Johnson could arm-wrangle legislation through Congress like no one else. He would urge his aides to seize the moment in the wake of his historic 1964 victory, telling them that “Eighteen months from now, Ol’ Landslide Lyndon will be Lame-duck Lyndon.”
Johnson knew, like every modern president, that the opening months following his election presented a unique window to advance key priorities and pass legislation. Many modern presidents have thus campaigned on accomplishing particular goals in their first 100 days. And as we mark the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, there have been a number of positive developments for which social conservatives can give thanks:
1. The confirmation of Justice Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court
President Trump had promised that he would appoint a justice in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia—that is, someone who would follow an originalist understanding of the Constitution. True to his word, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and his administration successfully steered Gorsuch through the U.S. Senate confirmation process.
As a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Gorsuch upheld religious freedom in Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sibelius. His concurring opinion in that case explains that the Religious Freedom Restoration “Act doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”
2. Rescinding the Obama Administration’s rewrite of Title IX
In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter doubling-down on its claim that the term “sex” in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 encompasses the distinct concept of “gender identity.” The letter mandated that schools with sex-specific facilities for females—locker rooms, showers, overnight accommodations, and restrooms—open those spaces to biological males who professed a female identity, or else schools risked losing federal funding.
Trump’s rescission of this policy allows states and local school districts to use their own discretion when navigating these difficult and sensitive questions. Some schools have chosen creative solutions, like providing alternative unisex facilities that respect the privacy of all students. We applaud the administration for freeing local schools to protect the privacy interests of all their students.
3. Key cabinet appointments
It has often been said that “personnel is policy.” One of the best hopes we have that Trump will defend religious freedom in the future is his decision to include men like Roger Severino in his administration. Severino was tapped to direct the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He has previously worked to defend religious freedom at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and The Heritage Foundation. Additionally, several men and women who are heading up entire departments, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, strongly support religious freedom.
4. Reinstating the Mexico City policy
The Mexico City policy banned foreign-aid funds from going to nonprofit groups that provide abortion counseling. President Obama rescinded that policy in one of his first executive orders in 2009. But President Trump reinstated it on January 23, 2017.
The last 100 days are a stark departure from the Obama administration’s indifference and at times hostility to religious freedom. Here’s hoping that President Trump treats religious freedom as the “first priority” of his administration, just as he promised to do.
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