‘Eminent domain is something that has to be used, usually you would say for anything that’s long, like a road, like a pipeline or like a wall or a fence…’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) Top Democrats are suddenly clamoring for religious liberty protections—at least as far as it will help them oppose President Trump’s southern border wall.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter last Thursday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen demanding to know more about what the Trump administration is planning to do with respect to privately held land along the border.
The letter was signed by other high-ranking Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs, all of whom were reacting to the president’s recent remarks about using eminent domain as a means to build sections of the wall on private lands.
Eminent domain refers to the government’s power to take private property for specific public use, in exchange for fair compensation. About 67 percent of land located along the southwest border belongs to non-federal entities, although it is mostly undeveloped.
The extent to which Trump may use federal eminent domain authority, if at all, is unclear. Some property owners at the border already have signaled that they will challenge the wall in court, likely resulting in even more injunctions on border security that will, at the very least, delay progress.
In typical fashion, Trump’s political opponents have become so intent on opposing an illegal immigration wall that they have tied themselves in knots.
The Schumer-led Democrats are now taking the position of upholding the religious liberty of the Catholic Church, after having spent years attacking the religious liberty of Christian churches over issues such as abortion, gay marriage and others items.
Religious liberty now seems a top concern.
In October 2018, the Department of Justice, on behalf of Customs and Border Protection, began legal proceedings aimed at creating an eminent domain easement along a narrow section of the border in an area of the Rio Grande Valley where illegal border crossings are well-known to occur.
The section, however, is part of a larger expanse owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, which also contains a 153-year-old structure, known as the La Lomita Chapel.
Democrats are suddenly up-in-arms at the prospect that border wall construction could inhibit access to the religious site, saying in last week’s letter that it “raises important questions” about “the impact it will have on religious organizations and American taxpayers.”
“Eminent domain should not be invoked in violation of any religious organization’s First Amendment right of free exercise of religion, Fifth Amendment right to just compensation for any public taking of private property, or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Schumer said.
By all accounts, Democrats under President Barack Obama spent years degrading religious liberties to achieve left-leaning policy goals, with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act repeatedly being singled out, ignored and criticized as an obstacle.
The U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, overturned the administration’s Obamacare abuses against family owned business, like Hobby Lobby, on RFRA grounds when the Department of Health and Human Services attempted to force Christian family business owners to provide abortion contraceptives, known as abortifacients, to workers.
The Obama administration also sued a Catholic ministry of elderly nuns, called the Little Sisters of the Poor, into oblivion because the women refused to issue condoms, sterilizations and chemical abortions.
“They asked the Court to force Catholic nuns to sin, to act against conscience, to pursue an immoral course of action. The nuns are placed in a situation reminiscent of other times in the history of the Church when unjust rulers sought to compel the Church to bend the knee to Caesar,” a statement on Catholic.org reads.
Within months of being elected, Trump called off the Obama-era legal assault.
But the Brownsville diocese is challenging the Trump administration’s wall efforts on its land, saying it is “fundamentally inconsistent with Catholic values”—a view not shared by the whole of the Catholic Church. Presumably, a wall would inhibit the diocese from ministering to illegal aliens crossing the Mexican desert.
The border easement tiff has created a perfect media storm for congressional Democrats to further oppose the president during the partial government shutdown. Thursday’s letter was announced with much fanfare.
“We request that you provide transparency regarding how many religious organizations and American citizens will have their land seized so that President Trump can build his border wall,” Schumer wrote with dramatic intent.
Trump defended the use of eminent domain in a Rose Garden appearance earlier this month.
“Eminent domain is something that has to be used, usually you would say for anything that’s long, like a road, like a pipeline or like a wall or a fence,” he said.
To complicate matters further, eminent domain traditionally has been the bane of limited government conservatives and libertarians. But previous Republican and Democratic administrations have invoked eminent domain powers, as do many state and local governments regularly.
Trump told reporters that his administration would use eminent domain only when landholders refuse to sell land needed to construct the wall. He also pledged to pay fair prices.
“I think it’s a fair process. I think it’s a process that’s very necessary, but I think it’s fair,” Trump said. “A lot of times we’ll make a deal, and I would say a good percentage of time we’re making deals.”