Catholics who gathered bright and early on Tuesday for the 13th National Catholic Prayer Breakfast praised Donald Trump’s administration for its commitment to religious freedom.
Trump, they told The Daily Caller, is delivering a welcome change from former President Barack Obama’s policies, which they said penalized Christians for living out their faith in the public realm.
At the breakfast, more than 1,000 Catholics heard from from Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, the archbishop who oversees the Archdiocese for the Military Services and Vice President Mike Pence about the importance of Catholicism, service and prayer for the future of the America. They also addressed concerns like religious liberty, unborn life and Christian persecution.
“[Vice President] Pence’s speech really set the tone for how the Trump administration has and will continue to stand for Christian values,” college student and business owner Grant Calderon told TheDC. “Today was the first time since 2008 that the White House has been represented at the prayer breakfast, which speaks volumes about how much the Obama administration valued not only the Catholic community but the church as a whole.”
Arlington, Va., resident Bernadette Michael agreed. “Sadly, the Obama administration promoted policies that threatened to drive people of faith from their own businesses, and force the shutdown of vital services faith organizations provide, unless they agreed to actions that violated their faith,” she said. “While much remains to be done, I am pleased that the Trump administration has taken important steps to end these policies by recognizing the right of people and organizations faced with severe penalties to seek redress on the basis of their First Amendment rights.”
The Obama administration was heavily criticized by Catholic leaders for many policies, such as threatening to pull funding from schools that did not allow gender-dysphoric teens to use the restroom and locker room of their choice. Likewise, the administration said that federal contractors must treat same-sex couples the same as married couples with hiring policies, and attempted to expand direct federal funding of abortion through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.
But perhaps no policy was more excoriated than a 2012 mandate requiring many non-profit and for-profit organizations to be involved with insuring contraceptives and abortifacients. That mandate first lost in the 2014 Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision that said closely held corporations would not have to follow the mandate, and then again in 2016 when the court ordered the administration to negotiate a resolution with religiously-affiliated non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Thomas Aquinas College and 35 other groups that challenged the mandate.
Trump promised to reverse the mandate and to stand with social conservatives on most issues. Leaked information last week indicated that the administration is beginning that process. Trump has also signed an expanded ban on federal funding of international groups that promote abortion. Trump has let the Obama contractor regulations stand.
Self-described “cradle Catholic and pro-life and religious liberty advocate” Michele Tennery told TheDC that Trump’s administration has taken a “strong stance … in defense of our God-given right of religious liberty on which our great Nation was founded. President Trump has shown bold leadership by signing an Executive Order in the Rose Garden to restore religious liberty in the public square.”
She praised Trump for the Department of Justice’s recent move to “draft rules regarding our religious liberties and our rights of conscience in the public square.”
“President Trump wants all Americans to follow the dictates of their conscience and their values as they live out their lives in America,” continued Tennery. “The president believes that our freedom to practice our faith is the birthright of every American. Conversely, the Obama Administration and its HHS Mandate within Obamacare, violated American’s fundamental rights of conscience with its HHS Mandate regarding birth control and abortifacients being offered and paid for within health care insurance policies.”
A spokesperson for the Military Archdiocese said, “Certainly, the Trump Administration has made clear that it supports the free exercise of religion, as we heard from Vice President Pence this morning, and that’s a welcome change of pace. We just hope the Administration can turn words to action. There is certainly a better climate and less urgency about pushing an agenda ‘neutralizing’ religion.”
Area pro-life leader Will Waldron, the Executive Director of Divine Mercy Care, said that the Trump administration is showing “a complete 180-degree turn in the policies relating to abortion.”
“The previous administration wanted to make abortion easily accessible, culturally acceptable, and even free,” he explained. “The strategy was right in line with Planned Parenthood’s culture-of-death agenda. By contrast, the current administration is collaborating with the pro-life movement to make abortion at least much less frequent, if not soon eliminated entirely.”
Attendees also praised Pence, who spoke about being raised Catholic before he became an Evangelical Christian. “I really enjoyed Pence’s speech,” said Calderon, “not only because of the way he delivered it but also the content. The agenda of the administration on hot issues such as abortion and foreign policy was made very transparent. Pence did not use any weasel words, he stood his ground on issues that even the church remains divided on, which says a lot about his character.”
Michael had no criticism of Pence, whom she said “spoke movingly of the continuing importance to him of his Catholic upbringing and the positive role that Catholics, individually and in lay and religious organizations, have played in improving the lives of so many Americans. He emphasized that he and President Trump stand with Catholics and those of other faiths, in working for the protection of the poor and vulnerable, and in educating young people to be citizens who serve others.”
“I can’t think of anything more positive,” concluded Michael.