Trump to ease enforcement of limits on church political activity

Katrina Soto
May 6, 2017

"With this executive order we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty, and we are proudly re-affirming America's leadership role as a nation that protects religious freedom for everyone", he said. "As an institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been and remains committed to political neutrality". "How is a pastor to navigate that, and who determines what's political?"

President Donald Trump on Thursday, May 4, 2017, signed a new executive order aimed at weakening the enforcement of a law that bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates.

However, the new order does not provide any major concessions to religious entities despite the role that conservatives played in getting Trump elected president in the 2016 election.

The second requires federal agencies to consider amending regulations "to address conscience-based objections" to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, such as those brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns.

"We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion and to ensure that all Americans - no matter where they live or what their occupation is - enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment", said Gregory Baylor, senior counsel for the pro-faith group Alliance Defending Freedom.

The lawyer praised Trump's decision to issue the order, adding, "I think it's long overdue".

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 order is expected to be challenged in court.

Religious discrimination is barred by the US Constitution.

Under what's known as the Johnson Amendment, 501 (c)(3) nonprofit groups, including churches, can not endorse political candidates. He could tell the IRS to make the amendment a low enforcement priority, which the agency appears to have been doing for years. Neither of those policy changes was directly brought into effect by the order. One who expressed frustration Thursday was Los Angeles Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, who described the order as "deeply disturbing".

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith. "We must never infringe on the noble tradition of change from the church and progress from the pew".

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"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".

A full repeal of the Johnson Amendment can happen only through an act of Congress.

The law had "an automatic exemption for houses of worship, like churches - but not for nonprofits like religious schools and hospitals", NPR's Nina Totenberg explained past year.

The Johnson amendment, named for then-Sen.

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.

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Easing political activity rules for churches also raises questions about whether churches could be pulled into the campaign finance sphere and effectively become "dark money" committees that play partisan politics without disclosing donors. "Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes".

In the hours since it was signed, the order has received mixed reactions.

Civil rights groups promised to sue.

The civil rights group issued a declaration promising a lawsuit shortly after the order was signed in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House.

"IF YOU'RE GOING TO WORK FOR THE PEOPLE, THEN YOU HAVE TO ABIDE BY THE DECISIONS OF THE PEOPLE " The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa said today - "President Trump's executive order is risky andill advised for the government'sinterest and for houses ofworship".

Other reports by My Hot News

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