Trump Backtracking on Religious Liberty?

The Trump Justice Department, headed by pro-life AG Jeff Sessions, is inexplicably backtracking on promises of religious liberty. Obamacare, which many of us had hoped would be gone by now, attempted to force a birth-control mandate on Christian organizations that opposed it in principle.

Trump loudly proclaimed throughout his campaign that he would be a champion of religious liberty, that the federal government would not interfere in deeply held religious beliefs. But look what’s happening now.

A district court ruled in favor of the religious organizations, which led to the Obama Justice Department (yes, I know the oxymoronic quality of that title) appealing the decision. Everyone expected the new Justice Department, led by the conservative Sessions, would drop that appeal.

It hasn’t happened. In fact, . . . well, I’ll quote from a newspaper report:

Several religious groups are dismayed and confused by the Trump administration’s move, including the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of nuns — that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the GOP president. They believed either the Justice Department would halt its appeal in the case or the administration would seek a rules change from the Department of Health and Human Services.

East Texas Baptist University and other plaintiffs represented by the nonprofit law firm Becket are now asking the Justice Department to drop its appeal of a district-court ruling in their favor, allowing them permanent relief from the mandate.

Conservatives who oppose the birth control mandate on religious liberty grounds are bewildered by the move at a Justice Department headed by former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is well known for his conservative views.

As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

Continue defending the Obamacare mandate on birth control? Why on earth would this administration act like the Obama administration on this issue?

I’m willing to wait and see. My hope—giving the benefit of the doubt here—is that there is some confusion in the department that will be straightened out. Perhaps the outrage over this report will awaken them to what they are doing.

Meanwhile, I continue to offer the same caution I’ve been offering all along: don’t expect principle from an administration that is headed by a man without principle. Sometimes, he will do what is right, but one can never depend on that.

Principles and Christian character remain the cornerstones for good government. Without them, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.

Russia, Sessions, & the Media: Oh, My!

Russian influence has been all the rage lately. Democrats want to prove that somehow Russia caused Hillary to lose the election. Good luck with that. She was her own worst enemy. Denial is a terrible thing, leading to blindness.

I won’t deny something, though, and that’s the uncomfortable sense that Trump is far too comfortable with Vladimir Putin. For that reason alone, I don’t mind investigations going forward to find out who may have been too connected to Russian influences. But I want that investigation to go both directions: Republican and Democrat.

Amnesia works wonders. How many recall that accidental hot mike incident when Obama told the Russian leader at the time that once he got reelected, he could be more flexible? Investigations, anyone?

Now AG Jeff Sessions has become the latest target. He is accused of meeting with Russian officials during the campaign. What is forgotten is that he was a senator with foreign relations responsibilities. One of those “meetings” has now been revealed as having been set up by the Obama administration, and it was with a number of foreign officials, not just Russian.

Do I know all the truth about those accusations? No. But do I suspect they are bogus? Yes.

I support the call for a thorough investigation; let the chips fall where they may. But the news media’s thirst for a Republican scandal says more about them than Sessions. Most of the media is, and has been, simply another arm of the Democrat party, in concert with its goals:

I seem to recall another AG who did some things that didn’t seem to bother the media:

Trump may be generally unpopular, but the media may be even more reprehensible in the public’s eyes, and for good reason:

I will never be at ease with Trump’s tweeting, nor with his basic character. As I have said before and will repeat now, I will support him when he is right and call him out when he is wrong. I will do my best to be an honest commentator.

His war with the media has many conservatives thrilled; I think some would like to see him go even further:

Frankly, though, I’m not convinced the “war” is all that genuine. He’s a showman; he knows how to whip up an audience. As long as he can do so with this approach, he will use it. If it becomes counterproductive, he will switch gears.

Character remains the bedrock foundation upon which good government is built. Let’s never forget that.

Trump’s Good Picks

Now that most of Donald Trump’s nominees for significant positions in his administration have been chosen—most still needing Senate confirmation—I can say I’m pleased with a number of them. My goal today is to highlight the picks that I think are positive, the ones that offer some hope of wise counsel and prudent policies.

jeff-sessionsSen. Jeff Sessions has been tapped to be the next attorney general, the job that requires enforcing federal laws and prosecuting those who break them.

Sessions was the first senator to support Trump in the primaries, so this is his reward. From everything I know about him, he is an excellent choice for this particular task. Some have attempted to paint him as a racist, apparently because he’s a southern senator. That’s getting old, especially for someone who, as attorney general of Alabama, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan.

betsy-devosBetsy DeVos, a proponent of education reform, school choice, and champion of parental rights in education, is slated to be the next secretary of education.

DeVos is a solid pick, someone who understands just how awful the education system has become. From what I can determine, she doesn’t believe the government is the answer for fixing it. At one point, she supported Common Core, but when she realized its true nature, she withdrew her support.

As long as there is an education department (for which there is no constitutional authority), I am glad, at least, that someone with her perspective will be in charge of it. If allowed to follow her beliefs, Christian schools and homeschoolers will have an ally.

It would be great if everyone grasped this truth:

source-of-problems

tom-priceGeorgia congressman Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who has consistently opposed Obamacare and has offered his own substitution for it year after year in Congress, is, hopefully, the next secretary of health and human services.

Price has been chairman of the House Budget Committee, thereby serving as a leader in attempts to control the budget.

With Price at the head of HHS, the Obamacare nightmare might be on its way out—finally.

james-mattisThe job of secretary of defense is crucial right now, given the sad state of our military after eight years of Obama. Handing it over to a general is not a bad idea, and most of the commentary I’ve read and heard about James Mattis confirms for me that he might be the answer.

Mattis’s 41 years as a Marine Corps general is filled with commendations. He led troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and also in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Most recently, he served as head of US Central Command, in charge of all American forces in the Middle East. It would be nice to have someone at defense who understands that region. He co-wrote, with Gen. David Petraeu, the military’s counterinsurgency manual.

Obama fired Mattis from his position at Central Command without even a phone call to him. He had to learn about it from others. The fact that he was at odds with Obama’s military policy makes him even more attractive, frankly.

ben-carsonFor housing and urban development secretary, Trump has picked Ben Carson, someone who knows what it’s like to live in public housing. Many thought Carson might be chosen for HHS instead, given his medical career, but HUD is also understandable.

I like Carson personally (though I have never met him), yet I have been critical of him for his early support of Trump once he (Carson) dropped out of the presidential race. I’ve never really understood what he saw in Trump, especially after the accusations Trump leveled at him during the primaries. But I do want him to succeed in this new position.

The only caveat I have is whether Carson knows how to administer such a large bureaucracy, particularly when he appeared at first to withdraw from consideration from any position, claiming he didn’t feel qualified. Well, we’ll see how it goes. All the best, Dr. Carson. I will pray for you.

john-kellyThe ongoing terrorist threat requires a steady hand at the Department of Homeland Security. From what I’ve gathered, putting former retired Marine general John Kelly in that position gives the nation the steady hand it needs for balancing national security with our basic liberties.

Kelly served as head of US Southern Command. In addition to his experience leading troops overseas, he is known for his strong knowledge of border issues and the drug trade in South and Central America. Sadly, he lost his Marine son to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly knows what it means to suffer personally from the War on Terror.

nikki-haleyI’m glad to see South Carolina governor Nikki Haley chosen to serve as our next ambassador to the United Nations. While she has little experience in international affairs, she has impressed me with her strong conservatism and political acumen. Both qualities are needed in that post to adequately represent the US in the international arena.

scott-pruittWhile I have little knowledge of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice for leading the EPA, I’m heartened by what I’ve read. Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, has been a strong critic of the excesses at the EPA. His detractors will say he is anti-environment, but he appears to be simply anti-extremism on environmental policy. He considers the EPA an all-too-powerful agency pursuing an ideological agenda based on what he considers dubious science. More power to him as he seeks to provide balance in this area.

Those are Trump’s choices that I favor the most. I will follow up in another post with ones that I consider more questionable.