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What to Tell Your Fence-Sitting Friends About Trump's Record on Due Process and Religious Freedom

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

If your friends are squeamish about voting for President Donald Trump, I understand. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Trump in 2016 because of his temperament and because I didn’t trust his promises. Yet Trump’s successes in his first term have brought me around, and I think they will convince your friends, too.

This is the third in a series of articles explaining the president’s policy successes and giving a full-throated defense for his reelection. The first focused on Trump’s foreign policy achievements and the second delved into his record on protecting the right to life. This article will focus on Trump’s success in protecting Americans’ civil rights.

Former President Barack Obama undermined Americans’ civil rights in key areas and Trump has reversed a great deal of the damage.

In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) under Obama’s Department of Education (DOE) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter reinterpreting Title IX of the 1972 Higher Education Act. The OCR letter encouraged colleges and universities to set up what Harvard Law professors Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk called a “sex bureaucracy.”

Separate Title IX offices at colleges across the country heard sexual assault cases, doling out punishments on their own. These mini-bureaucracies operated off of the false assumptions that police are biased against sexual assault victims, that 1 in 4 women on college campuses are raped, and that basic due process protections for the accused would violate the rights of the “victims.” Men who have been falsely accused — and even acquitted by real police investigations — have seen their lives and reputations destroyed.

Obama personally established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in 2014, and he teamed up with Joe Biden to launch the “It’s On Us” campaign on these issues.

Trump’s DOE, under Betsy DeVos, rightly reversed these practices. Even so, the idea that “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply in sexual assault cases has permeated popular culture, and it reared its ugly head in the battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

While President Obama publicly stood up for free speech on college campuses, his DOE and Justice Department undermined free speech in the name of fighting sexual harassment.

Obama’s DOE and DOJ sent a letter to the University of Montana arguing that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,'” including “verbal conduct,” regardless of whether it is objectively offensive or sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile environment. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argued, this meant the federal government was trying to impose a nationwide university speech code “that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser.”

The relevant office at the DOE later clarified that the joint letter to the University of Montana did not represent official policy, but the sexual assault overreach remained a threat on college campuses.

President Trump has signed executive orders directing his administration to protect free speech on college campuses. He invited Hayden Williams, a Leadership Institute field representative who got punched in the face in Berkeley, Calif., on stage at CPAC last year.

Perhaps the greatest sea change from Obama to Trump involves religious freedom. The contraception mandate under Obamacare infamously tread on religious freedom, leading to years of litigation with the Little Sisters of the Poor. When the Obama administration supported same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Obama’s solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, admitted that religious freedom would face challenges if same-sex marriage became the law of the land: “It’s going to be an issue.”

When the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic struck America, Democratic mayors and governors singled out churches, synagogues, religious schools, and other religious institutions for extra regulations to fight COVID-19.

Local politicians have singled out churches for extra coronavirus regulations. Many banned drive-in church services — where parishioners would remain isolated in their cars with their windows up, listening to a sermon over the radio — even though this practice would not spread the coronavirus. In fact, the same localities that banned drive-in church services allow drive-through fast-food restaurants as essential. Yet a mayor dispatched police to fine Christians $500 for attending a drive-in service, and Kentucky’s governor sent police to record the license plates of Christians at such a service.

At least one county even went so far as to ban singing during livestream events, a regulation that did not specifically single out churches but one that seems most likely to hit churches hardest.

When the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse set up an emergency field hospital in New York City’s Central Park, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the move was “very troubling” because Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian charity. He sent staff over to “monitor” the field hospital, ostensibly to ensure it would not discriminate against LGBT people. Talk about mixed-up priorities!

Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) issued new lockdown rules in Orthodox Jewish areas, blaming Orthodox Jews for a coronavirus outbreak in a “predominantly ultra-Orthodox cluster.” Rabbis and Jewish schools have filed lawsuits to stop this “blatantly anti-Semitic” order.

The Trump administration has stood up to these attacks on religious freedom. Under Attorney General William Barr, the Department of Justice has released numerous statements of interest defending churches from these egregious violations of religious freedom. Barr has also threatened legal action against states that take lockdown orders too far.

On September 17, Constitution Day, Barr condemned the various abuses of coronavirus lockdowns as the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” besides slavery. “A person in a white coat is not the grand seer to make a decision for society. A free people makes its own decision through its elected representatives,” he explained.

President Trump has consistently defended religious freedom, before and during the pandemic. Early in his tenure, the president issued an executive order promoting free speech and religious freedom across the government, reversing Obama’s abuses on religious freedom. According to a 2018 study, this order played a critical role in allowing faith-based charities to provide health care to 13.7 million Americans.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, represents a threat to religious freedom and to traditional Christianity. One of his staffers openly declared that a traditional Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) position on homosexuality should be disqualifying for a Supreme Court nominee. During a speech at the Human Rights Campaign in 2018, Biden condemned some of the people who “tried to define family” — presumably those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — as “the dregs of society.”

Biden has made no secret about his intention to return to the Obama policies that dragged the Little Sisters of the Poor into court. Biden also supports the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would outlaw “discrimination” against LGBT people. States have abused such laws, twisting them to force Christian bakers, florists, farmers, and others to effectively endorse same-sex marriage by contributing their artistic talent to celebrate same-sex weddings.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, has demonized mainstream conservative Christian organizations, suggesting that people who abide by traditional Christian doctrines are unfit to serve in government.

When it comes to due process, free speech, and religious liberty, Trump has made tremendous progress in rolling back Obama’s abuses and Biden would bring much of the Obama governing style back. This makes a strong argument for Trump’s reelection.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

Trump Signs Executive Order to Protect Free Speech on College Campuses
Why Biden Is a Threat to Traditional Christians and Religious Freedom
Mayor Gives Infuriatingly Flimsy Excuse for Fining Christians $500 Over Drive-In Church Services
Bill de Blasio Threatens to ‘Permanently’ Close Churches, Synagogues if They Meet During Coronavirus