President Donald Trump reaches out to Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House on Thursday. Trump signed an executive order directing the IRS to avoid cracking down on political activity by religious groups.
The Trump administration says the president would offer "regulatory relief" to organizations that because of religious objections don't want to cover contraception in their employer health plans. "On one hand the baker should serve pies and cookies and cupcakes to everyone but should that baker have to invest himself in a wedding cake for a ceremony that is against his faith", said Kent Ostrander, with the Family Foundation.
The executive order will "prevent the Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights" and "directs the IRS not to unfairly target churches and religious organizations for political speech".
The executive order directs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to use its discretion when enforcing the Johnson Amendment, a rule that was passed by Congress in 1954 to prohibit houses of worship and nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The action maintains that the president's order would selectively benefit churches and religious organizations by allowing them to endorse political candidates without risking their tax-exempt status.
"President Trump's prior assertion that he wished to "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of 'fake news, '" Romero said.
Several prominent leaders of the religious left noted that neither Republican nor Democratic policy stances lined up neatly with any major religion's teaching and said the move could fracture congregations by encouraging leaders to take sides.
It also instructs the IRS to allow active churches across the U.S. to endorse political candidates.
The executive order does not change the law. The federal government, he said, will never ever penalize someone for their religious beliefs.
GJELTEN: Trump's actual order, however, only directed the Justice Department to, quote, "issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law". "We are giving the churches their voices back".
Critics were bracing for the worst after a leaked version of the bill from January appeared to allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees, among other sweeping provisions.
"It's a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care".
"It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, 'The God who gave us life gave us liberty", said Trump at the breakfast. Still, Lederman suggests a policy statement granting religious organizations preferential treatment as compared to other 501 (c)(3) organizations with respect to enforcement of the Johnson Amendment could violate the Constitution's establishment clause.