Trump Promises Catholics: 'I Will Defend Your Religious Liberties'
In a letters to Catholic leaders this week, Donald Trump proclaimed himself to be pro-life and promised that as president he would support core American values such as religious liberty and school choice.
“I have a message for Catholics: I will be there for you. I will stand with you. I will fight for you,” he wrote Oct. 5 in a letter addressed to the 18th Annual Catholic Leadership Conference, which was held Oct 4-6 in Denver. “I am, and will remain, pro-life. I will defend your religious liberties and the right to fully and freely practice your religion, as individuals, business owners and academic institutions.”
He stated that Catholics are “a rich part of our nation's history” and that “the United States was, and is, strengthened through Catholic men, women, priests and religious Sisters.”
The GOP candidate has met a mixed reaction among Catholics. His commitment to the pro-life cause has been questioned by some advocates, due to his strong pro-choice statements in 1999 and 2000, as well as his comments during the campaign that his sister Maryanne Trump Barry would be an ideal Supreme Court nominee, despite her striking down New Jersey’s ban on partial-birth abortions as a judge. He has also pushed for an expansion of the death penalty.
While he later said that he is committed to appointing pro-life judges, his earlier statements have left some Catholics wary of his sincerity in being pro-life.
In his letter, Trump pointed to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s extreme pro-abortion record and support for the HHS mandate, which requires many religious non-profits to fund and facilitate abortion and related products against their religious convictions.
“Hillary Clinton supports forcing The Little Sisters of the Poor who have taken care of the elderly poor since 1839, pay [sic] for contraceptives in their health care plan (even though they have never wanted them, never used them and never will), and having the government fine them heavily if they continue to refuse to abide by this onerous mandate,” Trump wrote.
He added that Clinton “has been hostile to the core issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics: life, religious liberty, Supreme Court nominations, affordable and quality healthcare, educational choice and home schooling.”
The GOP candidate also noted that Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, has a 100 percent voting record from the National Abortion Rights Action League and supports same-sex marriage, despite professing to be Catholic.
“On issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics, the differences between myself and Hillary Clinton are stark. I will stand with Catholics and fight for you,” he said. “Hillary Clinton has been openly hostile to these core Catholic issues for a long time, and is only going to be worse with Tim Kaine now following her lead.”
Trump's entire letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference can be read here.
The Republican nominee this week also sent a letter to the group Catholic Vote, vowing to protect religious liberty. "Our current president has not respected American’s First Amendment rights," wrote Trump. "Many believe he has declared a war on Catholics. And my opponent promises to be even worse!"
He continued: "As president, I promise that I will protect the rights of Catholics to live their faith, to serve their communities, and to act on their beliefs without fear. This approach one would think is just common sense. And I don’t care if people call it politically incorrect."
Significantly, Trump vowed to sign specific legislation if passed by Congress:
Getting the economy back on track must be near the top of the list. Preserving and protecting the rights of our citizens must also be in the mix. If Congress considers legislation such as the First Amendment Defense Act or the Conscience Protection Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature and enactment.
When asked if he thought Trump would follow through on his promises, Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote, said, "Politics at the end of the day is personnel, and the Trump campaign has surrounded itself with Catholic, pro-life people. Whether Donald Trump intends to follow through on all his pledges, the types of people around him certainly inspire a lot of confidence -- particularly on this issue of religious liberty."
While Catholic Vote did not support him during the primaries, the group now fully endorses Donald Trump for president.
Earlier this week, Fr. James V. Schall, a respected theologian who taught for over three decades at Georgetown University, gave Trump a major endorsement in the pages of the Catholic World Report.