Trump's Executive Order Continues The Assault On Religious Freedom

Yesterday, during his National Day of Prayer ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump continued his assault on religious freedom by signing an executive order. In a speech that reads more like a fake viral email than a presidential address, Donald Trump substituted showmanship for sincerity: While claiming to protect religious liberty, he trampled it.

Here’s a quick rundown on the executive order’s three parts:

Attacking Women’s Health

This executive order is aimed at attacking women’s access to birth control, which is essential to women’s health and equality. The president believes that bosses should be allowed to use religion as an excuse to deny their employees insurance coverage for contraception. The executive order itself didn’t overturn the Affordable Care Act regulation protections that ensure most employer insurance plans cover contraception with no co-pay, but it has started the process for the Trump administration to do just that. And it was no surprise that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price immediately issued a statement taking up the order’s call for him to “reexamine” these protections, which clearly means “revoke.”

Denying women access to contraception in the name of religion is discrimination, plain and simple.

Allowing Houses Of Worship To Endorse Political Candidates

Trump’s executive order also has a section aimed at limiting the enforcement of a provision in the tax code often referred to as the Johnson Amendment. This law protects the integrity of non-profit organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose political candidates.

Trump claimed that his attack on the Johnson Amendment is necessary because current law “silences” the speech of houses of worship and clergy. That, of course, isn’t true. Houses of worship and the faith leaders who represent them have robust speech rights. They can speak to any issue they choose from the pulpit or in public; write about issues in bulletins or on a website; and within a few boundaries that apply equally to all nonprofits, houses of worship can lobby on specific legislation. Just like all other nonprofits, they simply can’t endorse or oppose candidates.

Repealing or weakening the law would turn houses of worship into political tools, which no one wants.

From the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump continued his assault on religious freedom. 

In reality, this section of the executive order doesn’t really do much. The false rhetoric Trump continues to spread about the Johnson Amendment, however, is dangerous. It is intended to shape the public’s understanding of the law and is a setup for repeal efforts.

In fact, while Trump was signing his executive order in the White House Rose Garden, members of Congress were just up the street, moving forward on their own plans to repeal the Johnson Amendment. A House Oversight & Government Reform joint subcommittee held a hearing designed to drum up support for legislation that would repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. 

Sticking to their script, the majority party and three of the four witnesses, including representatives from the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom, inaccurately argued that current law stifles the free speech of houses of worship.

Fortunately, witness Rabbi David Saperstein and Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) brought the facts: the American public and houses of worship don’t want to change the law. More than 70% of Americans don’t want churches to endorse candidates. In addition, 99 religious organizations wrote to Congress asking it not to repeal the Johnson Amendment.

We also submitted a statement for the hearing, voicing our strong opposition to weakening or repealing current law.

Encouraging The Government To Use Religion To Discriminate

The final part of the executive order similarly makes no immediate changes, but lays the groundwork for sweeping rule changes across the government. It calls on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “issue guidance” for all federal agencies on the scope of religious freedom protections in federal law. We know that many in the Trump administration, including Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence, want to sanction the use of religion as an excuse to roll back equality for LGBTQ people and women. And so we’re rightly concerned that the rule changes that result in discrimination against LGBTQ people and women, but also against religious minorities, nontheists and almost anyone else – all in the name of religion. The danger is in what lies ahead. We won’t let the Trump administration advance discrimination and betray religious freedom to score political points.

Yesterday brought a trifecta of bad news for religious freedom: the divisive National Day of Prayer, Trump’s dangerous executive order and a congressional hearing on repealing a key protection for houses of worship and our democracy. But we’re ready to fight in court, on the Hill and anywhere that the Constitution is being trampled. You can join us: Urge Members of Congress to keep the Johnson Amendment.