Trump Just Made It Easier for Churches to Back Politicians

Thursday's executive order could also make it harder for workers at religious organizations to get birth control.

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May 4 2017, 5:31pm

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday—the National Day of Prayer—that makes it easier for religious organizations to support political campaigns and could allow certain religious-affiliated employers to withhold contraception from their employees, the BBC reports.

The order instructs the IRS to "exercise maximum enforcement discretion"—which basically means to not investigate—religious groups if they openly back a political candidate. The practice is outlined in a provision in the tax code called the Johnson Amendment, which says religious organizations could lose their tax-exempt status if they publicly support a politician, the Washington Post reports. Because Trump can't repeal the law without congressional approval, he's leaning on the IRS to turn a blind eye to organizations that violate it.

The order—called the "Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty"—also asks federal agencies to allow some religious groups to refuse to give their employees birth control, as they're required to do under Obamacare.

"We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced ever again," Trump told reporters at a ceremony at the Rose Garden.

The Trump administration has significantly watered down the order, cutting a number of provisions that appeared in an original draft obtained by the Nation in February. Essentially, the draft exempted a wide range of organizations from federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on someone's sexuality, stance on gay marriage, or views on abortion. After facing backlash from civil liberties and LGBTQ groups, the administration apparently dialed the order back a bit.

Still, the ACLU has condemned Thursday's order and vowed to challenge its legality.

"The actions taken today are a broadside to our country's long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state," the organization wrote on Twitter. "It's a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again."

Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.

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