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President Joe Biden signed executive orders at the White House in Washington Jan. 22 after speaking about his administration's plans to respond to the economic crisis during the coronavirus pandemic.
President Joe Biden signed executive orders at the White House in Washington Jan. 22 after speaking about his administration's plans to respond to the economic crisis during the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Bishops weigh in on flurry of executive actions

Biden signs executive orders, undoing some policies, expanding others

WASHINGTON — On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders and proclamations.

Some of Biden’s actions Jan. 20 reversed executive orders by predecessor President Donald Trump, which were themselves reversals of policies by other past presidents.

Biden’s wide-ranging executive order to extend existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people exceeds the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling on the issue in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, said the chairmen of five U.S. bishops’ committees.

In so doing, they said, the Jan. 20 order has implications for religious freedom.

“Every person has a right to gainful employment, education and basic human services free of unjust discrimination. That right should be protected,” the committee heads said in a joint statement released late Jan. 22 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However, Biden’s order on “‘sex’ discrimination exceeds the court’s decision,” they said. “It threatens to infringe the rights of people who recognize the truth of sexual difference or who uphold the institution of lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.”

The statement was issued by: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, Committee on Catholic Education; Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Biden’s order “may manifest in mandates that, for example, erode health care conscience rights or needed and time-honored sex-specific spaces and activities,” the prelates said, pointing out the high court took care “to note that Bostock did not address its clear implications for religious freedom. (Biden’s) executive order exercises no such caution.”


Biden boosted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put in place by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and which Trump sought unsuccessfully to end. Also, the 46th president revoked the Trump administration’s bid to exclude noncitizens from the decennial U.S. census count.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, head of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, praised this move “toward ensuring that immigration enforcement in our country is balanced and humane.”

The Department of Homeland Security said that effective Jan. 21, it was instituting a 100-day pause in deportations and rescinding the “remain in Mexico” policy that required those seeking asylum in the United States to stay in Mexico until their case came up for review.

Another key executive order from Biden erases a Trump-imposed travel ban, which started out with a half-dozen majority-Muslim countries and later was expanded to include four African nations, plus Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.

He also directed the State Department to restart visa processing for individuals from the formerly banned nations, and to develop ways to address harm caused by the ban.

“We welcome yesterday’s proclamation, which will help ensure that those fleeing persecution and seeking refuge or seeking to reunify with family in the United States will not be turned away because of what country they are from or what religion they practice,” said a joint statement Jan. 21 from Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Dorsonville.

Biden also halted the construction of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall via an “immediate termination” of Trump’s national emergency declaration that allowed billions of dollars allocated to the Defense Department to go to wall construction, as well as a review of the legality of those funding transfers.


The new president signed a letter announcing the United States’ intent to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which will take effect in February.

Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the accord in 2019. He argued the agreement would harm the U.S. economy and hurt U.S. workers.

“On the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, Pope Francis called for ‘a culture of care, which places human dignity and the common good at the center,’” said a joint statement Jan. 21 from Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, head of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, head of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; and Sean L. Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

“The environment and human beings everywhere, especially the poor and vulnerable, stand to benefit from the care of our common home. For this reason, we urge the United States to do more to help poorer nations adapt to the changes in climate that cannot be prevented,” they added.

One climate-related executive order by Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Another enforces a temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A third reversed the rollbacks to vehicle emissions stands. A fourth undid Trump-era decisions to reduce the size of several national monuments, and a fifth reestablished a working group on the social costs of greenhouse gases.

“We look forward to administrative and legislative actions that lead to a better future for our children that includes cleaner, safer sources of energy, good-paying clean energy jobs, less carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, and cleaner air and water for all — especially for low-income communities and those most vulnerable to this pollution including unborn and young children — many of whom have been on the front lines of pollution for too long,” said a Jan. 20 statement from Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.


Further, Biden issued an executive order overturning a Trump executive order that called for aggressive tactics to find and deport immigrants in this country illegally. Another executive order also blocked the deportation of Liberians who have been living in the United States.


Biden signed an executive order requiring social distancing and the wearing of masks on all federal property for the next 100 days. He also issued a “100 days masking challenge” to Americans to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The new president also appointed Jeffery Zients as the national COVID-19 response coordinator, reporting directly to Biden.

Further, he reinstated ties with the World Health Organization, from which the Trump team chose to withdraw last year. The head of the U.S. delegation will be Dr. Anthony Fauci, a Catholic who is considered the leading U.S. infectious disease expert.

Biden designated Susan Rice, head of his Domestic Policy Council, to lead the effort to require all federal agencies to make “rooting out systemic racism” central to their work.


Biden extended through March a federal moratorium on evictions and has asked three federal agencies to extend a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. He also continued a moratorium on federal student loan interest and principal payments through September.

The new president established ethics rules for all who serve in his administration, and ordered all appointees in the executive branch to sign an ethics pledge.

— Mark Pattison and Julie Asher contributed to this report.

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