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President Trump Signs ‘Religious Liberty’ Executive Order, Weakens Johnson Amendment

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday dealing with religious freedom. In a White House speech prior to the signing, Trump said the goal of the order is “to defend the freedom on speech and religion.” The President, who had religious leaders present for the speech in honor of the National Day of Prayer, said that “faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country,”

Part of the order is meant to roll back the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 rule which limits political contributions from non-profit religious organizations. Trump called the Johnson amendment “a crippling financial punishment; very, very unfair.” While not officially repealing the Johnson Amendment, the new order directs the IRS to use discretion in enforcing it.

Those in favor of the Johnson Amendment believe that it was a necessary separation of church and state. “For decades, the charitable political activities prohibition has kept tax-exempt religious institutions focused on their religious missions, freeing them from the pressures associated with partisan political campaigns,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center. “The charitable political activities prohibition was adopted and has been supported on a bipartisan basis by administrations of both political parties since the 1950’s. Opening the door to a flood of unaccountable political money will undermine the ‘social welfare’ purpose of religious institutions.”

In addition to rolling back the Johnson Amendment, the order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” follows in the footsteps of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, giving “regulatory relief” to business owners who use religious grounds to object to an Obamacare requirement to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

This is a developing story. More details will be added as they come available.

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