The Republican presidential candidate offered his qualified support for the First Amendment Defense Act in a letter published last week by The Pulse, a conservative media outlet.
“If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signatures and enactment,” Trump writes.
The letter was written to the American Principles Project, a social conservative group calling on 2016 candidates to sign a pledge agreeing to push for passage of the First Amendment Defense Act within 100 days of office. Six candidates — Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum — signed the pledge, but Trump instead for the first time signaled conditional support for the legislation in the letter.
In the missive, Trump outlines his expected approach to religious freedom if he were to occupy the White House. Making the point the president cannot pass legislation, Trump says he would “certainly sign legislation that protects religious liberty for all.”
Possibly alluding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage, Trump says the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment are in “a clear conflict.”
Referencing Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, Trump says Congress, not the courts, have the authority to enforce that provision of the U.S. Constitution.
“The priorities that the next president will need to establish are not known at this time,” Trump writes. “Protection of the nation and its citizens must come first. 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.”
The Trump campaign didn’t respond to repeated requests from the Washington Blade to confirm or deny the veracity of the letter.
Maggie Gallagher, senior fellow at the American Principles Project Foundation, affirmed this week on EWTN, a Catholic news agency, that Trump has given conditional support for the First Amendment Defense Act.
“Donald Trump at least said that he would not veto the legislation, but he would not commit to passing it,” Gallagher said.
The First Amendment Defense Act — introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate — on its face prohibits the federal government from taking action against individuals who oppose same-sex marriage, although “individuals” is defined broadly in the bill to include for-profit businesses.
Critics say the legislation would go further and enable anti-LGBT discrimination — as well as potential bias against single mothers and unmarried couples. Among other things, it would allow government workers to refuse to process paperwork from same-sex couples, such as tax forms and applications, in addition to compromising President Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT bias.
Even before signing the pledge, Cruz and Huckabee affirmed they would make passage of the legislation a priority in their first 100 days during separate interviews on EWTN.
According to the American Principles Project, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham — before he dropped out — also signaled they would support the First Amendment Defense Act without the signing. Republicans who refused to comment on whether they support the bill were Chris Christie, John Kasich, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore. None of the Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley — affirmed support for the bill.
Brandon Lorenz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said Trump’s position on the First Amendment Defense Act “is deeply troubling.”
“It is a reminder to voters across the country of how important it is to elect a pro-equality president in 2016,” Lorenz added.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, shrugged off the letter, saying in the end it demonstrates why the First Amendment Defense Act won’t become law.
“I’ve said time and again that FADA is a non-starter in its current form; any chance it has of making it to the president’s desk — any president’s desk — would come only after significant amendment,” Angelo said. “In that light, Mr. Trump’s stated deferment of the legislation to congressional leadership makes prospects for FADA passage in a hypothetical Trump administration all the more unlikely.”
Over the course of his campaign, Trump has attacked Mexican immigrants, black activists, Muslims, women and the disabled, but hasn’t made a point of targeting the LGBT community. Even though he’s said he doesn’t favor same-sex marriage, Trump hasn’t made objections to LGBT rights a significant component of his campaign. (In fact, he said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” people shouldn’t be fired for being gay.)
Angelo denied Trump’s letter represents a shift toward targeting the LGBT community, saying the bigger picture is he and other candidates refused to sign the pledge.
“After a 2012 election cycle that was marred in many respects as ‘the primary of pledges,’ where demands were made of GOP presidential candidates to add their name to all sorts of anti-gay promissory notes, it’s encouraging to see the preponderance of the candidates in this cycle refusing to literally sign away their hopes of attaining this nation’s highest office by making outlandish promises to placate a overzealous fringe of the Party,” Angelo said.