WINDSOR TERRACE — In his first days in office, President Joe Biden wasted no time trying to reverse his predecessor’s policies. He signed several executive orders seeking to overturn policies that former President Donald Trump put in place.
The orders covered a wide range of issues, including several of interest to Catholics — although none of them dealt with abortion, which has been labeled as the “preeminent priority” for Catholics by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Biden, who is Catholic, is pro-choice, a position at odds with Catholic doctrine.
So far, the orders Biden has signed deal largely with such issues as immigration, health care, and the environment.
But one order is causing controversy for Catholic leaders because it extends federal protections for LGBTQ individuals.
Biden issued an order directing all federal agencies to fully implement a 2020 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also covers LGBTQ individuals. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex.
Several USCCB members, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, issued a statement objecting to Biden’s order. In the statement, the USCCB members contended that the order has serious consequences for religious liberty.
In a friend-of-the-court brief the USCCB filed prior to the Supreme Court decision, the bishops expressed concern over the expansion of Title VII to include the LGBTQ community. “Such an interpretation will affect the ability of churches and faith-based schools and charities to hire and retain employees who, by word and conduct, accept or at least do not contradict the organization’s religious message.” the brief read.
Another order reinstates the rights of transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military.
On immigration, Biden focused on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA program), first signed by Barack Obama in 2012. Donald Trump sought to eliminate it in 2017. DACA allows young adults who were brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents when they were children and remained here to be protected from deportation.
Biden’s order directs the U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary to enact measures “to preserve and fortify DACA.” The president is also calling on Congress to pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, known as Dreamers.
Father Ruskin Piedra, founder and director of the Juan Neumann Center, applauded the move. The center is housed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sunset Park.
“I think President Biden is doing a smart thing here,” he said. Biden is taking preemptive action in case someone files a lawsuit to eliminate DACA and the case goes to the Supreme Court, according to Father Piedra. “The president doesn’t want the water to go over the dam,” he said.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that DACA had to stay intact because the Trump Administration failed to go through proper measures to dismantle it. Following that ruling, the Juan Neumann Center was inundated with applications from Dreamers seeking DACA status. “Many, many people contacted us looking for help,” Father Piedra said.
Biden reversed a Trump order that placed a priority on rooting out and deporting undocumented immigrants.
On health care, Biden signed orders to accelerate the federal government’s response to COVID-19, mandate the wearing of face masks on federal property and in airports and interstate train stations, and have the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization.
The U.S. is rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement after Biden signed an order authorizing it. Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2019. The agreement was signed by 200 countries in 2015. All of the parties agreed to adhere to self-imposed numerical markers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, U.S. emissions were 21.5% below 2005 levels. The country’s goal is to achieve a 26% to 28% reduction by 2025.
Trump held that the agreement was detrimental to the U.S. because he said it would kill 2.7 million jobs. Catholics take climate change seriously, according to the USCCB.
“Climate change is a genuine human concern that affects all peoples, and the decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement is an important step in the path of care for the environment and respect for the family,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, said in a statement.
Bishop Coakley is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Bishop Malloy is chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.
Sean Callahan, president, and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, also signed the statement.
Although none of Biden’s initial orders dealt with pro-life issues, Catholics are leery.
“Catholics and pro-life supporters should be very concerned about the Biden Administration’s plans to overturn several of the strong pro-life policies that Donald Trump put in place when he was president,” said Jerry Kassar, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party.
Kassar, who is Catholic, is a pro-life supporter.
Two issues Catholics will be keeping an eye on are the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy.
The Hyde Amendment, which took effect in 1980, prohibits using Medicaid funds to pay for abortions. Biden has pledged to repeal it.
The Mexico City Policy, put in place in 1985, blocks non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in foreign countries from receiving U.S. funds if they provide abortions. NGOs are required to certify that they will not provide these services to qualify for funding.
At a White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not offer details on the president’s plans. “Well, I think we’ll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days,” she told reporters.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, told the WHO executive board that Biden planned to rescind it.
“It will be our policy to support women’s and girl’s sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States as well as globally,” Fauci said, according to a transcript released by the White House.