The 45th President of the United States unveiled the Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty order, which will allow religious leaders to have a more active role in American politics.
Mark Silk, a professor at Trinity College in CT who writes on religious freedom, called the actions described by the White House "very weak tea", especially compared to the draft religious freedom executive order that was leaked earlier this year, That document contained sweeping provisions on conscience protection for faith-based ministries, schools and federal workers across an array of agencies.
The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and enacted into law in 1954, restricts tax-exempt organizations, including churches and religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office.
The order also directs federal agencies to exempt some religious groups from providing birth control to employees and staff, as required under President Obama's Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The earlier draft of Trump's executive order allowed religious organizations and private corporations to deny services to any individual based on "sincere religious beliefs". The IRS investigated Johnson Amendment cases only a handful of times, including once against a NY church that purchased newspaper ads opposing the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and once against a California church where a pastor preached an anti-war sermon in 2004 that specifically called out presidential candidates.
Civil-rights groups opposed the executive order, which weakens regulations that prevent churches from engaging in political activity. "For more than 60 years the rules prohibiting political activity by charities have guaranteed the public that their valuable charitable donations will be used for social good, not politically electioneering", the senators wrote".
The order, said the ADL in a statement, "will foster inappropriate religious entanglement with politics, campaign donations and special interests", and "likely encourage divisive manipulation of religious organizations by campaign donors who are not subject to customary campaign finance laws". Churches could become major factors in the financing of political campaigns and conduits for unaccountable special-interest political contributions.
Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of the evangelical Liberty Counsel, said he was "pleased" with the order, telling NPR that Trump "set forth the general policy" of protecting religious freedom.
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Romero said the order was, in essence, just a way to pander to religious conservatives.
The order, which Trump unveiled with great fanfare in a Rose Garden ceremony, was cheered by some conservative Christians but seen as a disappointment by others, who said it fell short of the broader changes they wanted as part of a highly anticipated measure on religious liberties. "That's what this executive order is about".
Mr Trump often complained about the rule as a candidate.
"For the people in this room, the Johnson Amendment is not a priority", he said. Still, Lederman suggests a policy statement granting religious organizations preferential treatment as compared to other 501 (c)(3) organizations with respect to enforcement of the Johnson Amendment could violate the Constitution's establishment clause.
"What is a pastor to do if a congregant who is a major donor now makes his church gift contingent on an endorsement from the pulpit for his or her preferred candidate?" asked Saperstein, a former USA ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, as well as the Union for Reform Judaism's adviser for policy and strategy. "Most pastors I know don't want to endorse politicians".
Michael Farris, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom, also asserted Trump failed to fulfill his campaign promises.