Wisconsin-based atheist group sues Trump over church order

Justin Greene
May 6, 2017

In his remarks before the signing Thursday (May 4), the president said: "Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue or any other house of worship".

Three religious leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, offered prayers during the ceremony. "[Trump] himself says this is the first step".

President Trump signed a new executive order to "promote religious liberty" during a White House event on Thursday commemorating the "National Day of Prayer".

The White House originally said Trump would urge the IRS to use "maximum enforcement discretion" regarding the Johnson Amendment, which was passed in 1954 and prohibits 501 (c)(3) nonprofits from endorsing specific political candidates.

Thursday's executive order doesn't repeal the Johnson Amendment - which is what candidate Trump promised numerous times and President Trump promised to do as recently as the February 2 National Prayer Breakfast.

It's unclear what impact, if any, this executive order would have on LGBT communities, said Laura Kanter, director of policy, advocacy and youth programs at the LGBT Center Orange County.

Trump spoke to religious leaders at the Rose Garden, where he also announced he'll visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican - including a meeting with Pope Francis - on his first foreign trip.

"We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion", Baylor said.

For years, the HHS mandate has been the subject of heated legal debates.

The official emphasized that the order would not change existing law. EWTN is among the organizations that have filed lawsuits.

Michael Farris, president and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, a Texas-based agency that handles religious liberty cases, said the order, while well-meaning, included "vague instructions to federal agencies [that] simply leaves them wiggle room" to ignore the action.

But Cardinal DiNardo also stressed that the US bishops will "have to review the details of any regulatory proposals". The order, which essentially would make it even less likely that a religious organization would lose its tax-exempt status because of a political endorsement, falls short of what religious conservatives expected from Trump, who won overwhelming support from evangelicals by promising to "protect Christianity" and religious freedom.

The order also comes after the White House and Republicans made concessions, such as continuing to fund Planned Parenthood, in the latest spending bill, that many religious conservatives wanted undone. Faith based adoption agencies will remain closed because they believe a child deserves a mother and a father.

However it does not allow businesses to deny services to gay people in the name of religious freedom, as was predicted. "The substance of the order is certainly a win for groups like EWTN, Notre Dame, the Little Sisters of the Poor, but it is not everything that we hoped for", he told CNA. "We didn't get into this mess in one fell swoop, and we're not going to get out of it in one clean solution".

LGBT rights activists had braced for an order that protects opponents of LGBT rights. A repeal would require congressional action.

He said: 'No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors'. The executive order will provide some relief by directing the IRS to relax its enforcement of the provision.

In contrast, Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, voiced concern the executive order could open the door to partisan politicking in churches. "I know you'll only say good", Trump said, after unveiling the order. "He is certainly supportive of the life issues, supportive of religious liberty". It would also allow religious organizations lobbying for the right to discriminate a different set of rules that favor them.

"Evangelicals emphasize evangelism, and pastors often avoid controversies that might take priority over the gospel message", said NAE President Leith Anderson in a statement about the poll.

Other reports by Ligue1talk

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