Atheist group sues Trump over 'religious liberty' executive order

Lucy Bush
May 9, 2017

President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for churches to participate in politics, seeking to deliver on a campaign pledge to a community that overwhelmingly backed in him in last year's election.

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

The executive order, called "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty", also gives "regulatory relief" to companies that object to an Obamacare mandate for contraception in health care.

President Donald Trump signed a highly anticipated executive order on religious liberty in front of faith leaders at the White House Rose Garden on the National Day of Prayer on Thursday. And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Trump's order theoretically opens the door for more organizations to claim similar exemptions.

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Among other things, that version included a provision that could have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers on the basis of faith.

"We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion", Baylor said. "And once again this administration has taken another step down a unsafe slippery slope, undermining safeguards against discrimination and the intrusion of partisan politics into our faith communities and other aspects of civic life created to serve the needs of all of the American public". The U.S. Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. had previously determined that the preventive care mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The new executive order looks to "vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom", according to the text released by the White House, and "respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech".

American evangelical leader and president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore told CNN's Erin Burnett that the order is a start, but, hopefully, not the end to bringing more political freedom to religious institutions.

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A bill has been introduced in Congress to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which restricts tax-exempt non-profits, including churches, from endorsing candidates and carrying out overt political activity.

The order was praised by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who said that Trump's action "must be the first among others because the efforts by previous administrations to marginalize conservative communities of faith were real, thorough and complex".

Reverend Jeffry Starkovich, pastor of St. Henry Catholic Church, says the amendment was never really a concern.

The American Civil Liberties Union is not that anxious about President Trump's new "religious liberty" executive order.

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