President Donald Trump took an important first step in fulfilling his campaign promise to protect religious liberty today, signing an Executive Order that guides “the executive branch in formulating and implementing policies for the religious liberty of persons and organizations in America.” The Order acknowledges that, “Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government,” and states that, “All executive departments and agencies shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.”
“Religious Liberty is a fundamental right guaranteed by both the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions,” said NC Family President John Rustin. “Many citizens we represent have been very concerned about the erosion of those rights in our nation, especially when it comes to actions of the federal government. The Executive Order issued by President Trump today clearly recognizes the right of all Americans to religious liberty. Furthermore, it takes a strong first step toward directing executive branch agencies and officials to operate in a manner that respects and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty.”
More specifically, the Executive Order:
1) Prohibits the Department of the Treasury from taking “any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective….” Adverse action includes the imposition of taxes or penalties, the delay or denial of issuing tax-exempt status, or disallowing tax deductions for contributions to certain tax-exempt organizations. This is an attempt to address, in part, the “Johnson Amendment,” which prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, including churches and other religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The Executive Order cannot repeal this law, only Congress can, but it does provide some clear direction to the IRS regarding consistent enforcement of the law. (Ideally, Congress will repeal the Johnson Amendment this term.)
2) Encourages the secretaries of the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health & Human Services to “consider issuing amended regulations…to address conscience-based objections” to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The HHS mandate is the controversial provision of Obamacare that requires all employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, including drugs that cause abortions. This has been the focus of multiple legal battles that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court, including the cases involving Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
3) Directs U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue guidance to all federal agencies “interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law” so all of these agencies comply with Federal law.
While today’s Executive Order is a positive step in the right direction, many religious liberty experts recognize that there is still much to be done to protect the fundamental religious rights of Americans across the nation. NC Family, and other likeminded organizations, will continue to work to ensure that every citizen has the right to “practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation” by the government.