President Donald Trump has signed an executive order today he says will protect the religious freedoms of all Americans. Some on the religious right, however, say the order doesn't go far enough to address the concerns of Christian business owners who have been blocked by courts from running their businesses according to their biblical convictions.
After speaking to an audience of religious leaders gathered in the White House Rose Garden on the National Day of Prayer, the president signed an executive order targeting a rarely enforced IRS rule known as the Johnson Amendment – a rule that says religious organizations and other non-profits that endorse political candidates risk losing their tax-exempt status.
The order also promises "regulatory relief" for groups with religious objections to the preventive services requirement in the Affordable Care Act. Those requirements include covering birth control and the move could apply to religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, which have moral objections to paying for contraception.
Prior to signing the order he greeted religious leaders from a variety of faiths, including Christianity and Judaism. He also announced his first foreign trip will include stops in Israel, Rome, and Saudi Arabia.
On the Johnson Amendment: "We've always said the people who brought you a Form 1040 shouldn't be in the business of editing sermons. We have a long tradition in this country of people speaking out from the pulpit on the issues of the day. They should be free to do that without fear of government censorship."
On regulatory relief: "HHS Secretary Tom Price has said that he will put the president's order into action shortly. We are hopeful that it will lead to quick action from the agencies and their lawyers to end these lawsuits once and for all."
Lori Windham, general counsel
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council: "This step today starts the process of reversing the devastating trend set by the last administration to punish charities, pastors, family owned businesses and honest, hard-working people simply for living according to their faith. This trend is in part why 60 percent of Trump voters in the last election said they were more likely to vote for him because the GOP platform is very clear on religious liberty and unborn life."
Dr. Jerry Johnson, National Religious Broadcasters: "President Trump deserves praise for applying an emergency brake on the government’s movement toward coercion and discrimination. There is much that is commendable in the executive order, even while there is much that is missing – and that I pray will be soon addressed. Today’s action is a breath of fresh air and should be understood, I believe, as a first step toward righting the wrongs of recent years and reassuring people of faith that they are not second-class citizens."
Michael Farris, Alliance Defending Freedom: "President Trump’s executive order provides hope ... that he will move fully toward fulfilling his promise to protect religious freedom for countless Americans. Regrettably, this executive order leaves that promise as yet unfulfilled .... Though we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended."