Written by Don Byrd

Today, President Trump signed a new Executive Order on immigration that revokes his previous directive, which various courts have halted over claims that it violated due process and church-state separation. In response, among other changes, the new order removes one of the prior provisions most troubling from a religious liberty perspective: when the refugee program resumed, it would have prioritized refugees of minority faiths claiming religious persecution.

The new order does retain the temporary ban on refugee admissions into the United States, and it does provide exceptions for those refugee applications. Those exceptions no longer include any reliance on the religious status of the refugee.

In response to the new Executive Order, the Baptist Joint Committee’s executive director, Amanda Tyler, issued the following statement:

“By removing the preference for refugees of minority religions, the revised order acknowledges a fundamental principle of our constitutional guarantee of religious freedom: We do not preference certain faiths over others.

The Baptist Joint Committee remains concerned that this administration is using religious identity as a proxy for ‘security threat’ and a reason for exclusion. To respond to these concerns and the widespread perception that this order perpetuates religious discrimination, President Trump must renounce his prior comments calling for a Muslim ban and condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in all its forms.”

The BJC referred rightfully to the initial Executive Order on Jan. 27 as a “back-door bar on Muslim refugees” because of its explicit preference for minority faiths as well as the president’s own statements (on the day of the signing) regarding a need to preference persecuted Christians for entry. Combining the language of the initial order with his supporting rhetoric and campaign proposals for a religious test in immigration — halting entry of all Muslims into the United States — President Trump has earned the church-state scrutiny his immigration policy has received.

Going forward, administration policies and rhetoric should reassure all Americans that there is no religious test for entry into this country, and that we will not address security concerns with religious scapegoating.