The massive Women’s March against Donald Trump was billed as being open to all, but they would not have made room on the podium for the Little Sisters of the Poor as they did for Planned Parenthood. And I doubt the Little Sisters would have wanted to march – whatever they think of Donald Trump – against an administration that will end their persecution at the hands of the healthcare bureaucracy.

Donald Trump is personally irreligious, vulgar, mean-spirited and fond of the smack of firm government – against illegal Mexican aliens, Muslim refugees and outsourcing corporate executives – but he might save religious liberty in the United States for another decade or more. While most political attention is focused on whether President Trump will undo President Obama’s healthcare programme, his moves on religious liberty bear close watching too.

A priority of the Obama administration was to make religious liberty, the free exercise of which is secured by the first amendment in the American Bill of Rights, a secondary liberty. In the early days of the administration, “religious liberty” or “freedom of religion” was dropped in Obama’s foreign policy in favour of “freedom of worship”, a narrower concept which excludes the right of religious citizens to participate in civil life precisely as religious believers, in concert with their co-religionists. At the end of his administration, Obama’s state department had to be cajoled and threatened into declaring the obvious, that a genocide was underway against Christians by ISIS.

Yet it was at home that Obama most dramatically sought to reduce religious liberty to a right secondary to sexual liberties. Obama unleashed the considerable force of the American bureaucratic state against religious institutions. Had he handed over power to Hillary Clinton, religious schools in America would have faced government sanction for any dissent from the entrenchment of the sexual revolution, including transgender bathrooms for children.

The critical flashpoint was the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. In 2011, Obama’s department of health and human services (HHS) issued a mandate that required all employers to include contraceptives and abortifacients in their health insurance plans. There was a narrow exemption for religious employers, but the HHS mandate limited the definition of such employers to the parish itself. A Catholic soup kitchen, because it did not serve only Catholics, would not qualify.

Dozens and dozens of lawsuits were filed against the HHS mandate by private businesses, religious employers and churches themselves. On this issue, more lawsuits were filed against the federal government than at any time in American history, including racial discrimination suits during the civil rights era.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection