President Donald Trump on Thursday
signed an executive order that allows religious organizations to
endorse political candidates.
The order, signed on the National Day
of Prayer, is titled Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.
“We will not allow people of faith to
be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,” Trump said during a
signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. “And we will
never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever.”
“Under my administration, free speech
does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue or any other
house of worship. We are giving our churches their voices back and
we are giving them back in the highest form.”
The order directs the IRS to exercise
“maximum enforcement discretion” in enforcing the Johnson
Amendment, which limits tax-exempt groups from endorsing or actively
opposing candidates for political office. The order also allows
private employers who object on religious grounds to contraception to
deny reproductive health care to their employees.
The order is not as broad as a leaked
draft first reported by The Nation. That version reportedly
sought to protect persons and organizations that oppose marriage
equality and abortion rights and believe that a person's sex is
determined at or before birth.
The American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) said in a statement that it would challenge the president's order
“The actions taken today are a
broadside to our country’s long-standing commitment to the
separation of church and state,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D.
Romero said. “Whether by executive order or through backroom
deals, it’s clear that the Trump administration and Congressional
leadership are using religion as a wedge to further divide the
country and permit discrimination. We intend to file suit today.”
“America is a deeply religious
country because religious freedom and tolerance of divergent
religious views thrive. President Trump’s efforts to promote
religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his
conservative religious base into the political arena while also using
religion to discriminate. It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base
and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again,”