Here's what's in Trump's 'religious liberty' executive order

May 06, 2017, 01:57

President Donald Trump's executive order on "religious liberty," signed at the White House on Thursday, may not be quite as bad as rights groups feared when they mounted an emergency protest in the nation's capitol on Wednesday.

The order relaxes IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt organizations like churches from political speech and activities.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order entitled "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" during a National Day of Prayer event.

The executive order promises that the executive branch of the federal government will honor and enforce all existing protections for religious liberty.

Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders as well as a prominent USA rabbi joined Trump when he signed the order instructing the Internal Revenue Service to "alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment", the 1954 law prohibiting organizations that have tax-free status, including churches, from participating in political campaigns or supporting any particular candidate.

The order's health care provision could apply to groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who run more than two dozen nursing homes for impoverished seniors, and have moral objections to paying the birth control costs of women in their health plans.

"After careful review of the order's text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process", the statement said.

"Free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue, or any other house of worship", the president said.

The ACLU director went on to criticize Trump's assertion that he wants to do away with the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious institutions from supporting or opposing political parties and candidates.

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"We are giving our churches their voices back", said Trump, who signed the order on what he declared a National Day of Prayer.

In anticipation of the executive order, many civil rights groups began preparing lawsuits, and at least one group still intends to file.

Leaders of some faith groups condemned the order, saying it would damage congregations by politicizing them.

It's never been illegal for pastors, or rabbis or imams to endorse political candidates or tell congregants how to vote, but their churches, temples and mosques could be stripped of their tax-exempt status for doing so. "We embrace it. America has a rich tradition of social change beginning in our pews and our pulpits", he said.

While Trump's action on the Johnson Amendment aims to please religious conservatives, some oppose any action that would weaken the policy.

Trump's order was seen as much less impactful than a February draft that included a provision that could have let federal contractors discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers on the basis of faith. Repealing it would require action in Congress.

Many religious organizations praised the president's executive order.

"Tim Schultz, the president of the First Amendment Partnership, which works with legislators at the state and national level on religious-liberty issues, told the Atlantic that the conservative reaction to the order would be mixed, especially because it leaves out protections for those who object to same-sex marriage".

"This is where there's incredible room for injustice", said Warbelow, who noted that LGBT people are frequently subject to discrimination based on the argument of religious beliefs. The irony of this order is that millions of people of faith are affronted by the fact that Trump is misusing religious freedom to promote something they believe is morally wrong.

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