Catholic church leaders in a Feb. 16 statement said they were encouraged that President Donald Trump may be considering an executive order to protect religious freedom and said they would be grateful if he would move forward with the pledge that his administration would "do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty."
"As Christians, our goal is to live and serve others as the Gospel asks. President Trump can ensure that we are not forced from the public square," said the statement from committee chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The statement was jointly issued by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
The church leaders said an executive order would "implement strong protections for religious freedom across the federal government in many of the areas where it has been eroded by the preceding administration, such as health coverage, adoption, accreditation, tax exemption, and government grants and contracts."
"We ourselves, as well as those we shepherd and serve, would be most grateful if the president would take this positive step toward allowing all Americans to be able to practice their faith without severe penalties from the federal government," they said.
A draft version of the executive order was leaked in late January called "Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom." When it failed to appear on the president's desk, rumors were circulating that a scaled-back version might appear at his desk but there has been no word about it from the Trump administration.
The U.S. bishops posted an online letter for Catholics to send to the president urging him to sign the order after the draft version was leaked.
The Feb. 16 statement said the order would restore "the federal government's proper relationship with the First Amendment and other laws protecting conscience and religious freedom will enable us to continue our service to the most vulnerable of Americans."
The statement stressed that U.S. Catholic bishops have long supported religious liberty, adding that during the last several years "the federal government has eroded this fundamental right," most notably with the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate for religious employers who do not fit the mandate's narrow exemption including the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The USCCB leaders urged Trump to keep his promise and put an end to regulations and other mandates by the federal government "that force people of faith to make impossible choices.
"We express our fervent hope that with new leadership in the executive branch, basic protections for religious practice may be restored and even strengthened," they said.
The statement said an immediate remedy to the threats against religious freedom is needed and without it the church's freedom to serve others "will remain in jeopardy and needless conflict between the faith community and the federal government will continue."