President Trump signs executive order giving churches more political freedom

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President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump

President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order Thursday, with an audience of religious leaders, which would allow churches and other religious organizations the ability to be more politically active. The order, signed on the National Day of Prayer, would give the IRS “maximum enforcement discretion” over the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which prevents churches and other tax-exempt entities from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It would also provide “regulatory relief” for organizations that object for religious reasons to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide health services which include coverage for contraception.

“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,” Trump said. “And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever.”

His words drew some skepticism and criticism in light of his ban on Muslims traveling into the United States and his insistence on building a wall along the border with Mexico.

The executive order did not include provisions allowing religious institutions and organizations the right to deny those of the LGBT communities any services based on religious beliefs. It also did not lift protections against workplace discrimination of LGBT people who work for federal employers and contractors. Supposed leaks from within his administration showed that part of the order may still adversely affect the LGBT community.

“Once again, the LGBTQ community is moved to celebrate the idea that we have dodged a bullet,” said GLSEN’s executive director, Dr. Eliza Byard, in a statement. “And once again this administration has taken another step down a dangerous slippery slope, undermining safeguards against discrimination and the intrusion of partisan politics into our faith communities and other aspects of civic life designed to serve the needs of all of the American public. We join with many in the religious and civil rights communities opposing this action.”

Byard issued a warning: “GLSEN is relieved that the threats against LGBTQ people and basic American values embedded in the draft executive order leaked in February have not yet been publicly endorsed by President Trump with action. But we remain deeply concerned by today’s executive order both in its substance and its hints to what lies ahead, as evidenced by the component of today’s executive order charging Attorney General Sessions to ‘issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.’ Such language suggests President Trump is eager to continue finding ways to provide religious exemptions, possibly for individuals and companies, and create a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”