Religion

Trump's Religious Liberty Order Is Hit With Lawsuit

| by Lauren Briggs

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit seeking to end an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that would allow churches and other tax-exempt religious entities to take more of a vocal role in politics without fear of financial repercussions.

FRFF, a Wisconsin-based group dedicated to the separation of church and state, filed the injunction suit on May 4, stating that the order gives religious groups preferential treatment, according to The Associated Press.

"As a result of President Trump's [order], churches and religious organizations will be able to blatantly and deliberately flaunt the electioneering restrictions ... including during the upcoming 2018 elections, unlike secular non-profits, including FFRF," reads a portion of the lawsuit, notes AP.

The suit also urges a Wisconsin federal judge to see to it that the IRS enforces the 1954 federal law, called the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from becoming involved in political campaigns.

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Many conservative Christian leaders have expressed concerns that their churches could lose their tax-exempt statuses for taking a stance on gay marriage, gay rights and other issues that have both religious and political components.

However, the executive action has drawn criticism from opponents such as the ACLU as well as from Trump supporters who want the president to give churches more rights to speak out politically by following through on his campaign promise to "destroy" the Johnson Amendment.

"Today's executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. "After careful review of the order's text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process."

The White House has indicated that this measure is just the beginning of a long process intended to dismantle the Johnson Amendment.

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A statement released with the order said, in part: "[I]t shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom." Trump said that he would instruct the Justice Department to come up with a set of regulations to set a precedent for that process.

"For too long the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs," Trump said upon unveiling the order in the Rose Garden.

"You're now in a position to say what you want to say," Trump added. "... No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors."

​Sources: The Associated Press, Washington Post / Photo Credit: Michael Vadon/Flickr

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