Trump signs order to let churches engage more in politics

May 4, 2017, 2:59pm

A pastor, a rabbi, and a cardinal walked into the Rose Garden Thursday after President Donald Trump invited them to attend his signing of an executive order.

Widely considered to be a thank-you gift to his evangelical supporters, the order “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” calls for all tax-exempt organizations — but more specifically, churches — to be given the freedom to engage in political activity without suffering tax penalties.


“We are giving our churches their voices back,” said Trump, who signed the order on what he declared a National Day of Prayer. “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.”

The long-awaited order was less sweeping than originally anticipated. An earlier draft leaked in February included a provision allowing government agencies to deny services to LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were rumored to have persuaded Trump to nix it.

And nobody appears to be entirely happy with the end result. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-Christian legal organization, said the order “leaves many issues unresolved.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State, meanwhile, said the order was actually a “direct attack on religious freedom.”

Here’s what the order calls for:

An easing of the ban on political involvement by religious entities
The order instructs the Treasury Department not to penalize any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization that “speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.” In a nutshell, Trump is telling the IRS not to threaten such groups with the removal of their tax exempt status.

The 1954 Johnson Amendment restricts political activity by nonprofits, and last year on the campaign trail, Trump told a meeting of 100 evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders he would abolish that rule, at least inasmuch as it pertains to religious entities. He cannot scrap it unilaterally without the support of Congress, but he can change how the rule is interpreted by the Treasury.

The right for employers to deny employees health insurance that covers birth control
This is a victory for conservative groups that have been backing organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic organization that refused to comply with the Obamacare mandate that companies offer employees health care plans covering contraceptives.

The order directs the Department of Health and Human Services, Treasury Department, and Department of Labor to issue guidance to religious organizations, schools, and other groups saying they can refuse to provide employees with such health coverage if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.