T he number of political commentators I read these days has shrunk considerably from a year or two ago. As I noted recently, the presidential primary and election season and the first months of the new administration have been a huge wakeup call for me regarding some pundits, whose work I no longer look at not because I disagree with them politically — I continue, as before, to read the views of those whose outlook on politics and much else are not mine — but because I’ve simply lost interest in what they have to say.

I can’t any longer take seriously those who normalize the abnormal, rationalize the indecent, and downplay the dangerous. If I want to read conservative opinion writers, I’ll turn to real ones, not craven sellouts. Nowadays, when I want to know or write about a topic, I’ll look at the writing of a smaller number of analysts, people who’ve retained their independence, moral probity, and critical thinking faculties — those who haven’t allowed justifiable revulsion with the Left to blind them to what has happened to much of what, not so long ago, was called the Right, who haven’t reduced matters of policy and ethics to a myopic binary choice of “you’re either with ’em or agin ’em.”

And so, in addition to reading centrists and the stray well-spoken leftie (and maybe, for comic relief, a peek at Paul Krugman), I’ll be interested, on the right, in the thoughts of people like Bret Stephens and Pete Wehner at the New York Times; George Will and Jen Rubin at the Washington Post; and the boys at National Review (Williamson, Goldberg, French, Nordlinger, et al). They aren’t heroes, they just remain what they’ve always been — thoughtful conservatives — while all around them, erstwhile colleagues have turned, often quite abruptly, into yes-men who have not just acclimated to, but often rubber-stamp, the once-unthinkable.

Some of them have, in fact, had to summon the courage to remain resolute in their views in hostile environments. One is the aforementioned Stephens, late of the Wall Street Journal, where in February, widely respected editorial features editor Mark Lasswell was unceremoniously fired over the phone in what the Atlantic called a “a victory for the pro-Trump faction on the editorial staff.” So much for diversity of opinion on the Right.

When it comes to basic news, as a frum Jew, I’d like to be able to get it from sources that have Torah values as their lodestar. And prominent among those values is the exaltation of truth over partisanship: The willingness, that is, to report stories as they happen, wherever the political chips may fall, and of course, to report that a story did happen, rather than ignoring its very existence when it runs counter to one’s political loyalties.

But that can’t always be taken for granted, and the following is a glaring example of that unfortunate reality. There is virtually no issue of greater relevance for America’s religious citizens, including Orthodox Jewish ones, than religious freedom. The alternative lifestyles movement has successfully convinced both the courts and the court of American public opinion that it is the 21st-century version of the civil rights movement, and the head-on collision between it and America’s religious citizens, including us, is on its way to a shul, school, social service agency, and a host of businesses near you.

That’s why when candidate Trump met with evangelical leaders during the campaign, the moderator introduced the question-and-answer session by noting that “the request for questions was submitted to over a million people…. Fifty thousand questions came back. The number one issue was religious liberty — more than anything else.”

Given the critical importance of the religious freedom issue to our community, one would expect in-depth, extensive coverage by Orthodox media outlets of the new administration’s moves in this area. But events of recent days have proved otherwise.

On May 4, the president held a Rose Garden ceremony to announce an executive order (EO) on religious freedom. It consisted of three things: a platitudinous statement about protection of religious liberty, a directive to “consider” enacting conscience exemptions from Obamacare mandates (which the Supreme Court has already unanimously required), and a directive for the IRS not to prosecute discussion of politics from the pulpit under the Johnson Amendment (which that law doesn’t, in fact, ban; even for clergy political endorsements, which it does outlaw, only one church has lost its tax exemption in the last 60 years).

Here’s how three of the staunchest defenders of — and experts in the defense of — religious freedom in America today described the EO. Professor Robert George of Princeton observed, “The religious liberty executive order is meaningless. No substantive protections for conscience. A betrayal.” University of Virginia professor Douglas Laycock summed it up with, “This is pretty much nothing.” And the Heritage Foundation’s Dr. Ryan Anderson put it this way: “Today’s executive order is woefully inadequate… [Trump] either wasn’t listening or doesn’t care. Or simply caved to [the] Left’s bullying.”

The strongest testimony of all, however, to the EO’s utter emptiness came from someone who’s far from a friend of religious freedom. The ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, announced after the EO was issued, “We thought we’d have to sue Trump today. But it turned out the order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.” In a time when the most trivial move or statement by the president is being fiercely opposed by the Left’s “resistance movement,” Romero’s words say it all.

Nor was it all just a mistake, an unfortunate oversight. Back in February, there were credible reports that the administration was preparing an EO that would have directly addressed the real religious freedom concerns, such as exempting religious citizens and institutions from anti-discrimination laws. It is widely believed to have been scuttled at the insistence of high-placed, socially liberal individuals who have the president’s ear, and the current EO is what emerged instead.

Photos of the Rose Garden event prominently show Orthodox Jews among the handful of people looking on, smiling, as the president signs the EO. They undoubtedly attended believing that something meaningful to religious believers would take place, and were instead co-opted as props in the “elaborate photo-op” that Professor George calls a “betrayal” of their community.

Anyone who followed the president’s election campaign closely, of course, ought not to have been surprised by any of this, because he almost never spoke of religious freedom. On the rare occasion that he did, he fixated on repeal of the Johnson Amendment, something religious freedom advocates consider either largely an irrelevancy (for a decade, churches actually have delivered videos of political endorsements from the pulpits to the IRS, daring it to prosecute, with no response) or actually harmful to religious institutions. Incredibly, that was the only thing he mentioned in his convention speech that he’d do for “the evangelical community who have been so good to me.”

What was coverage of this EO like in the frum media world? It certainly did not garner anywhere near the honest critique it deserved. It ranged from coverage that downplayed the extent of disappointment with the EO among religious freedom advocates and the fact that the EO’s earlier version had been torpedoed, to failure to report the story entirely, even in news sections that devoted page after page to all of the latest exploits of the administration. Somehow, the very first action taken by the new president on one of the most critical issues facing the frum community was deemed not fit for print.

Torah-based media outlets — all of us — have an obligation to offer the unvarnished facts, wherever the chips may fall. A commitment to truth is our most precious commodity, and we’d better guard it well.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 660. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com.