US President Donald Trump today made good on a promise to allow faith-heads – particularly those of an evangelical stripe – greater freedom by signing an Executive Order called ‘Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty’.
He is quoted by NBC News as saying at political speech at a National Day of Prayer event at the White House:
Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation. We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.
We are giving our churches their voices back.
Trump promised during his election campaign to dismantle the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt organisations like churches from political speech and activities. His executive order relaxes IRS enforcement of that ban. While the executive order signals a promise kept, fully repealing the Johnson amendment would require Congressional action.
His Executive Order also gives “regulatory relief” to companies that object to an Obamacare mandate for contraception in health care.
While an earlier draft of the religious liberty order reportedly would have let federal contractors discriminate against LGBT employees based on faith beliefs, today’s version did not include such provisions.
Pastor Mark Burns, a longtime Trump supporter who attended the White House signing and a White House dinner for religious leaders on Wednesday evening, celebrated the move, telling NBC News today that it was :
A great day for religious freedom in America.
The open season on Christians and other people of faith is coming to a close in America and we look forward to assisting the Trump administration in fully restoring America’s First Freedom,
But Civil liberty groups criticised the order, with several vowing to sue.
Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement.
Plain and simple: President Trump’s executive order will hurt women, and the Center for Reproductive Rights is ready to fight back in court. President Trump’s executive order discriminates against women and robs them of essential preventive care.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D Romero said in a statement released minutes after the order was made public:
We intend to file suit today. 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.
Lambda Legal said on Tuesday that it would sue Trump if an explicitly anti-LGBT order were signed. But today, the organization’s CEO, Rachel Tiven, said the lawsuit was on hold – for now.
We will be scrutinising the moves that will be taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other administration officials in response to the Executive Order. If they take action based on this Executive Order that harms our community, we will sue.