On the National Day of Prayer, President Donald Trump issued an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty. The tone from the administration on this topic is certainly welcome after the last eight years, but we have to be very clear here all it just sets the tone.

Here is what the order essentially does.

1. The Secretary of the Treasury, through the IRS, is not to take “adverse action” as permitted by law against churches that engage in political speech.

“Adverse action” is defined as “the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies any tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit.”

While this sounds great, the problem is with the phrase “as permitted by law.” The Johnson Amendment is law. So I question how much different the IRS will behave under the Trump Administration. Ultimately Congress has to act, but President Trump made this a priority during his campaign. He needs to lead the effort.

2. The Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law” to address conscience-based objections to the contraceptives/abortifacient mandate in Obamacare from groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Shall consider? Seriously?

This language in the executive order is vague and essentially does nothing.

3. It then directs the Attorney General to guide federal agencies regarding protecting religious liberty.

So he hands this off to the Attorney General.

Conservatives were largely unimpressed and for good reasons.

Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University who has been a leading advocate for religious liberty, said on Facebook, “Donald Trump is not only a Great Deal Maker, he’s a Magician. He can make the right deliriously happy and the left hopping mad by issuing an executive order that does . . . nothing.”

George’s criticism was stronger on Twitter.

Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation wrote:

And earlier today, he issued an executive order on “free speech and religious liberty” that does not address the major threats to religious liberty in the United States today.

Today’s executive order is woefully inadequate. Trump campaigned promising Americans that he would protect their religious liberty rights and correct the violations that took place during the previous administration.

Trump’s election was about correcting problems of the last administration, including religious liberty violations and the hostility to people of faith in the United States. This order does not do that. It is a mere shadow of the original draft leaked in February.

Michael Farris, CEO and General Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, in a released statement, said:

Regrettably, this executive order leaves that promise as yet unfulfilled. As we have explained, though we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended. 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.  As the president said today, ‘No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.’”

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said Trump failed to deliver on religious liberty with this executive order:

President Trump has repeatedly promised that he would do everything in his power to protect the religious liberty of people of faith and faith-based groups. It was a major factor in his election. However, an executive order he signed today, while containing some helpful provisions for pastors and religious medical providers, falls far short of what is needed to protect people of faith from governmental persecution set in motion by the Obama administration. Instead, he has punted the issue to the Department of Justice which, he says, will develop new rules to protect the religious liberty rights of people and groups.

This is the second time that President Trump has backed away from signing a comprehensive order protecting religious liberty after LGBT groups complained about the proposed actions. We cannot accept this capitulation on such a critical issue and must fight back. Will you help us insist that President Trump fulfill his repeated promises to protect the religious liberty of people of faith?

David French at National Review said the order was worse than useless.

….the order is just as notable for what it omits as for what it reportedly includes. While the Johnson Amendment is important, its threat to religious freedom pales in comparison to the comprehensive assault on religious organizations on federally funded campuses, the threats to the religious freedom of Christian educational institutions, and the attack on the rights of conscience of dissenters from the new orthodoxies on marriage, the family, and even the definition of male and female. What will the administration do to protect religious freedom when the entire cultural Left mobilizes against it? We still don’t know.

The executive order doesn’t address religious freedom in our Armed Services.

“President Trump promised throughout his campaign that he would protect religious liberty and undo the attacks on Christians who live out their faith in the public square. This executive order is a step in the right direction,” Chaplain (COL) Ron Crews, USA (Retired), executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty said in a released statement. “While we are grateful for this first step, we sincerely ask for the president to make clear that these protections also belong to those who serve in our nation’s armed forces. No American, especially those who wear the uniform, should be denied their God-given, constitutionally protected religious liberties.”

Then you have this statement from the ACLU that pretty much says it all.

“Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome,” ACLU director Anthony Romero said in a statement.

“After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process. The order portends, but does not yet do harm to the provision of reproductive health services,” Romero added.

1 comment
  1. Repealing the Johnson amendment would allow funneling political campaign contributions through organizations in such a way as to be tax-exempt for donors (ie. taxpayer subsidized political contributions) and mask contributions from reporting. It would likely become an end-run around campaign financing laws.

    I think it would be best if churches and other organizations wish to take more direct political action that they forego tax-exemptions, which are essentially public subsidies.

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