President Trump’s Order Allows Churches to Become Politically Active
Thursday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that allows tax-exempt churches to more actively participate in politics and and may well free religious organizations to deny employees insurance coverage for birth-control pills.
The order partially fulfills a campaign promise by President Trump, although he would need an Act of Congress to rescind the underlying Y 1954 law that he has opposed, known as the Johnson Amendment.
The order was widely praised by religious organizations, but was denounced it by some as weakening the U.S. tradition of separating church and state.
“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced any more,” President Trump said at a signing ceremony at the White House where religious leaders had gathered in support.
“No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors,” he said.
President Trump’s order directs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to “alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment,” the White House said in reference to a law sponsored by Lyndon Johnson to silence pastors, then a US Senator from Texas who later became President.
Under that amendment, the tax code prohibits organizations that enjoy tax-free status from participating in a political campaign or supporting any 1 candidate for elective office.
The order also asks the government to issue rules that would allow religious groups such as the Little Sister of the Poor to deny their employees insurance coverage for services that they oppose on religious grounds, such as birth-control pills.
Those employees would be forced to go outside their employer-provided insurance plan for subsidized contraceptives, said Lori Windham, a lawyer who represents the group.
“Today’s announcement is a great day for the Little Sisters,” Ms. Windham said.
President Trump’s religious freedom order may give opponents an unintended boost
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had threatened a lawsuit to stop the order but later backed off, saying the most onerous provisions had yet to be enacted and that it falls way short of meeting President Trump’s pledge to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment.
President Trump’s order appears legally sound.
Rolling back the Johnson Amendment does not favor any particular religious views over others, and the President has broad authority to decide not to enforce certain laws.