Trump's religious freedom order may give opponents an unintended boost

May 06, 2017, 02:04
Trump's religious freedom order may give opponents an unintended boost

The amendment bans tax-exempt organizations like churches and other religious institutions from political speech and activities.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, well known for challenging policies it views as discriminatory, says the order is nothing more than "an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome".

"In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law", the order reads.

With President Donald Trump's signing Thursday of an executive order easing political restrictions on churches, the LDS Church said it will continue its policies and practice of political neutrality.

The order also offers "regulatory relief" for health care providers who don't want to provide birth control, for religious reasons. "This executive order directs the IRS, not to unfairly target churches or religious organizations for political speech", Trump said.

Opponents, however, fear it is a big step back for democracy and could entice religious leaders to take political positions, casting a shadow on their credibility as spiritual leaders. The president had also said that he wanted to do away with the Johnson Amendment, a provision that prohibits religious institutions from supporting or opposing political parties and candidates.

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The White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters Wednesday night that the order will direct the IRS to use "maximum enforcement discretion" over the rule.

But the copy Trump signed on Thursday was much narrower in scope, with language so vague that some conservatives wondered if the order would have any effect at all. "What the Executive Order will do, unfortunately, is politicize the pews".

Although violations of the Johnson Amendment could lead to the loss of tax-exempt status, the IRS has rarely enforced the rule.

"We know all too well the attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor", he said, "incredible nuns who care for the sick, the elderly, and the forgotten".

"Tell the president that the nation's first liberty demands more respect - and more protection - than the unsafe nothingness of this executive order", wrote David French, a National Review Online writer.

A change to the tax law to actually eradicate the Johnson Amendment would require action by Congress.

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The earlier draft of Trump's executive order allowed religious organizations and private corporations to deny services to any individual based on "sincere religious beliefs".

The order, said the ADL in a statement, "will foster inappropriate religious entanglement with politics, campaign donations and special interests", and "likely encourage divisive manipulation of religious organizations by campaign donors who are not subject to customary campaign finance laws".

"I'm really anxious about President Trump trying to politicize the whole thing, turning our religious institutions into political organizations", said Representative Ron Kind (D-La Crosse).

Some Iowa church leaders say it's a civil rights matter while others believe religious liberty will cause more discrimination.

US President Donald Trump speaks with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (L) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) behind him as Trump gathered with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, in Washington, US, May 4, 2017.

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