WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump marked the National Day of Prayer by signing an executive order designed to protect and promote religious liberty.
"Today my administration is leading by example as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America," the president, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and his religious advisors, including Paula White, declared during Thursday's signing ceremony.
The long-awaited order effectively weakens the enforcement of an IRS rule barring churches and tax-exempt groups from being involved with politics (this addresses the Johnson Amendment).
"We are giving churches their voices back," Trump told those gathered in the White House Rose Garden. "No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors."
"Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation," he said. "We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore."
The order also declares that it's a policy of the executive branch to protect and promote religious liberty.
In addition, it promises regulatory relief to religious groups that have a moral objection to the contraception mandate in Obamacare.
"Freedom is not a gift from government; freedom is a gift from God," Trump noted, adding that no American should be "forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith."
The majority of Trump's religious advisory board was present for the solemn event, including Paula White, Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, evangelist Franklin Graham, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, South Carolina TV evangelist Mark Burns, and Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed.
"It was a reunion more than anything," the Black Christian News Network 1 quoted Bachmann. "For people of faith, there was so much trepidation about what would happen in this election. They really felt that if Mrs. Clinton had prevailed it would have spelled a diminution of the nation, the nation would have morally suffered."
Thursday's order – a much watered down version of the first draft of the order leaked early in the president's term – fails to specifically address religious persecution in the military or against individuals who practice their faith in all aspects of their lives, including the workplace.
Even so, faith leaders wasted no time expressing their support for the executive action, while acknowledging more needs to be done.
"President Trump deserves praise for applying an emergency brake on the government's movement toward coercion and discrimination. There is much that is commendable in the executive order, even while there is much that is missing – and that I pray will be soon addressed," Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, CEO and president of National Religious Broadcasters, said in a statement.
"Today's action is a breath of fresh air and should be understood, I believe, as a first step toward righting the wrongs of recent years and reassuring people of faith that they are not second-class citizens," he continued.
Officials from the The Catholic Association echoed that sentiment.
"Today's executive order provides welcome relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been threatened with discriminatory government fines that would shut down their beautiful ministry of caring for the elderly poor," said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the The Catholic Association.
"We applaud the Trump administration for taking an important step to protect conscientious objectors like the Little Sisters of the Poor who faced millions of dollars in fines for refusing to violate their deeply held beliefs," Catholic Association senior fellow Ashley McGuire said.
"However, there is more work to be done to restore broad protections for people of all faiths in health care, business, education, and countless other fields who face harassment, bullying, and lawsuits because of their faith," she continued. "The American people want strong protections for religious liberty."