Trump Official: Religious Liberty “Should be Treated Just Like Every Other Civil Right”

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Sep 26, 2019   |   10:17PM   |   Washington, DC

The Trump administration has been taking strong steps to protect religious liberty for pro-lifers and others with deeply-held religious convictions.

And one of the key leaders behind these efforts is Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He recently spoke with the Washington Examiner about the importance of their work.

“Religious freedom should not be dependent on who sits in my office. It’s too important for that,” Severino said. “I think it should be treated just like every other civil right where it is beyond debate that this is a fundamental right that’s enshrined in our Constitution.”

Later, he added, “There is a real problem out there of lack of respect for conscience and religious freedom that needs to be addressed and we are taking the concrete steps to finally address it.”

Recently, Severino’s office has been advocating for a pro-life nurse in Vermont who said her employer basically tricked her into helping abort an unborn baby. The nurse said she made it clear to her employer that she believes abortions are wrong; but they scheduled her to help with an abortion, telling her it was a miscarriage instead. The hospital denies any wrong-doing.

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“This shouldn’t be a controversial issue,” Severino told the Examiner. “After Roe v. Wade, the American people came out in overwhelming numbers to say that whatever you think about the legality of abortion, you cannot coerce people to pay for it, or perform it, or assist in it. And most people who are pro-choice or pro-life can agree on that point, that you should not force people to violate their conscience on this deeply held belief …”

After the news broke, however, some abortion activists slammed conscience protections. Monica R. McLemore, a registered nurse and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, argued their case under the headline “If You Don’t Want to Provide Abortions, Don’t Go Into Healthcare.”

But Severino said many are motivated to enter the healthcare field precisely because of their faith. Like the Vermont nurse, he said many religious Americans have a strong conviction to help the poor and vulnerable.

To address growing concerns about religious freedom, Severino created a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within HHS last year. Since then, he said they have investigated more than 343 complaints.

“That’s tremendous growth in part because in the previous administration there was insufficient attention paid to these issues, and we’ve signaled a new openness and we’ve been informing and educating the public that these rights have existed for decades,” he said.

Here’s more from the report:

Severino oversaw a rule issued in May that lets medical workers file civil rights complaints to the federal government when they are forced against their religious or moral beliefs to discuss, refer, or participate in abortions, sterilizations, or medically assisted suicide.

The rule won’t be enforced until Nov. 22, but it’s also facing a court fight with liberal groups and California, who call it the “healthcare refusal rule.”

Severino told the Examiner that he believes people are beginning to realize the importance of religious freedom.

“… this is a right that had been under-enforced, [and] people were being discriminated against and felt they had nowhere to turn, and now they have somewhere to turn,” he said. “And it would be a shame if that door ever closed on them again.”

The Trump administration has been working to protect religious liberty at the international level as well. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump highlighted religious freedom during his speech to the United Nations and promised $25 million to fund efforts to protect it across the globe.