Written by Don Byrd

Last week, the annual National Prayer Breakfast was held in Washington, D.C. It is a nonpartisan, non-government event that brings together numerous religious leaders and public officials, including the President. All presidents since Eisenhower have attended.

What good is the prayer breakfast?

For me, among other things, it is a helpful opportunity to hear political leaders discuss their current policy priorities that may involve religion or issues related to religious liberty. In 2017, for example, President Trump used the prayer breakfast to emphasize his commitment to end the Johnson Amendment, the law that protects  congregations from politicization by barring tax exempt organizations including churches from engaging in electoral campaigning for or against a candidate. True to form, the effort to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment was a consistent focus in Congress last year. I even named it the top religious liberty story of 2018. Fortunately, despite his pledge, the Johnson Amendment remains intact. He did not mention it during this year’s event.

So, what did he talk about this year instead? What did he signal as a likely faith-based focus area for 2019? Faith-based adoption agencies. Specifically, those agencies that receive federal funds and have thus been bound by regulations barring discrimination on the basis of religion using those funds.

Here is an excerpt from President Trump’s remarks:

Unfortunately, the Michigan adoption charity that brought the Buck family together is now defending itself in court for living by the values of its Catholic faith.  We will always protect our country’s long and proud tradition of faith-based adoption.  (Applause.)  My administration is working to ensure that faith-based adoption agencies are able to help vulnerable children find their forever families, while following their deeply held beliefs.

As we saw earlier this year, what the administration has done is grant a waiver that allows a faith-based child placement agency in South Carolina to discriminate based on religion using federal funds. It means, for example, that a Christian adoption agency that is paid with taxpayer dollars to provide that service can refuse to place a child with Jewish parents. As BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler said in response to the waiver announcement, “[g]overnment-funded placement programs should not be allowed to exclude qualified foster parents based on religion.”

As indicated by the President’s remarks, this promises to be an area of continued emphasis. Stay tuned.