President Donald Trump is seeking to further weaken enforcement of an IRS rule barring churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates, in a long-anticipated executive order on religious freedom that has disappointed some of his supporters.
We will continue our steadfast charge to defend Americans' right to exercise their religion and ensure their freedom from having others' beliefs forced upon them.
President Donald Trump's executive order on Thursday making it easier for churches to dabble in politics kept faith with his promise to evangelical Christians who helped him win the White House, but could end up benefiting his opponents as well.
"Today's executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome", American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement.
The executive order, titled "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty", instructs the Attorney General to provide guidance to all agencies on "interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law".
Churches and other tax-exempt organizations are restricted from endorsing or explicitly opposing political candidates under the 1954 Johnson Amendment, but the executive order Trump signed Thursday makes clear that those activities would still not be permitted.
Trump's language stood in contrast to certain steps his administration has taken to bar entry to citizens from some Muslim-majority nations and his campaign trail vows to stop all Muslims from entering the country.
Sheldon said last June he was in a room with 100-or-so religious leaders in New York City, where then-candidate Trump talked at length about how he would undo the regulation known as the Johnson Amendment. "We are giving our churches their voices back", he said. Trump's order gives religious groups more liberty to do so without jeopardising tax-exempt status.
Under what's known as the Johnson Amendment, 501 (c)(3) nonprofit groups, including churches, can not endorse political candidates.
"We know all too well the attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor", he said, "incredible nuns who care for the sick, the elderly, and the forgotten".
But the White House had previously said Trump would urge the IRS to use "maximum discretion" in enforcing laws regarding religious organizations and offer "regulatory relief" to religious objectors to contraception coverage. The very narrow issue of whether pastors can endorse politicians is simply not what "religious freedom" means to most religious people.
A full repeal of the Johnson Amendment can happen only through an act of Congress.
Trump's executive order writes that speech on "moral or political issues from a religious perspective" should not be penalized, which is in line with existing IRS policies.
Campaign finance watchdogs cried foul over the dismantling of the Johnson Amendment, which Public Citizen's Lisa Gilbert said "could open the door to even more secret money influencing elections-this time with an added tax deduction".
The order did not match a broader, much more detailed draft leaked earlier this year that included provisions on conscience protection for faith-based ministries, schools and federal workers across an array of agencies.
The news came hours after the measure, which does very little to effectively protect and restore America's first freedom, was signed by President Trump, who was surrounded by religious leaders.
The Rev. Danny Reed of the Unitarian Church in Charleston said his flock has never felt cowed by tax codes when it comes to political expression.