WASHINGTON -- Protecting and promoting religious liberty – that's the goal of an executive order President Donald Trump is ingsign Thursday, according to a senior White House official.
It's a much watered down version of the first draft of the order leaked early in the president's term. This order does three things:
- Declares that it's a policy of the executive branch to protect and promote religious liberty.
- Directs the IRS to use maximum enforcement discretion when investigating tax-exempt organizations (this addresses the Johnson Amendment).
- Offers regulatory relief to religious groups that have a moral objection to the contraception mandate in Obamacare.
The order is short on the details that were included in the original draft circulated over the winter.
It falls short of specifically addressing religious persecution in the military or that against individuals who practice their faith in all aspects of their lives, including the workplace.
The order does address the Johnson Amendment, a law that prohibits pastors from endorsing candidates and delving too deep into politics from the pulpit.
A pro-family policy official with ties to the White House tells CBN News the Johnson Amendment is more of a "boogy man" than a real thing since it's only been used once in history to punish a church. A senior White House official says 100 faith-based groups have been investigated by the IRS using the law.
Despite the executive order, what's already illegal under tax exempt status will remain illegal, such as a church taking out an ad to endorse a candidate. The president's action simply frees up pastors and other faith leaders to speak more freely from the pulpit.
The White House believes the third provision of the law will help alleviate dozens of legal cases that remain challenging the contraception mandate in Obamacare. However, the executive order offers no specifics, rather agencies will have discretion for providing relief.
The president is expected to sign the order Thursday at an event at the White House marking the National Day of Prayer where he will make remarks.
— Jennifer Wishon (@JenniferWishon) May 4, 2017
My influential source also tells me that religious freedom Exec. Order to include language giving churches & ministries greater protection.
— David Brody (@TheBrodyFile) May 3, 2017
Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver says it's essential to restore religious freedom protections at this time after years of attacks from President Obama.
It a commentary in The Orlando Sentinel, Staver points to Obamacare as a big offender, citing instances like the Hobby Lobby case and Little Sisters of the Poor, in which pro-life Americans were being forced to violate their religious beliefs on abortion.
"Obamacare spawned an unprecedented number of lawsuits over religious liberty. Most of the litigation is still ongoing. President Trump now has the opportunity, through executive order, to reverse course and rein in the federal government's assault on religious freedom," Staver writes.
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