President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that claimed to “vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom.”
The order, titled the ‘Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,’ requires the Secretary of the Treasury to “not take any adverse action” against those who speak out about “moral or political issues from a religious perspective.” It also requires the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections” to the Obamacare mandate requiring companies to provide coverage for birth control.
Though the order was meant to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to repeal the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or actively opposing political candidates, a recent study has shown that most Americans — and Christians — do not believe religious leaders should endorse or oppose political candidates from the pulpit. A LifeWay Research study showed that almost 80 percent of Americans disagreed with the idea that “it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse political candidates during a church service.” Only 20 percent of Protestants, 13 percent of Catholics, and 25 percent of evangelicals supported the idea.
Experts have also said that it does little to actually change the existing Johnson Amendment.
“President Trump’s executive order did not ease the current restrictions on political activity by religious organizations,” Lawrence Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, was quoted as saying by CNN. “The executive order allows the IRS to restrict the activity it currently considers political, but prohibits the IRS from expanding the restrictions to cover activity not covered before the executive order.”
Since the signing of the executive order, many religious leaders have responded with disappointment that the bill has not offered individuals or organizations protection from penalties when they are acting on their religious conscience.
Still, some have expressed appreciation for the step taken by the administration.
“After years of open hostility toward religious institutions and conscience from the previous administration, this executive order is a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Baptist Press.
Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Farris said on Thursday that though he appreciates “the spirit of today’s gesture,” the executive order is not enough to provide real protections. Giving “vague instructions to federal agencies” allow them “wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended,” Farris said.
“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 of Alliance Defending Freedom.
Meanwhile, the executive order was signed on the same day that many across the nation observed the National Day of Prayer, during which prayers for the nation and its leaders are offered up at an estimated thousands of gatherings.