Today President Trump signed an executive order regarding religious liberty in America. The order provides much-needed guidance to the Executive Branch–especially the IRS.
Executive orders usually state policies or guidelines for the executive branch of the federal government. For example, executive orders might outline how the government will enforce certain laws or what the president’s priorities are for his administration.
Executive orders do not carry the same weight as a law passed by Congress or a decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.
You can read the president’s entire executive order on religious liberty here. Below is an overview of the order and its impact on religious organizations.
What The Executive Order Does
- States that protections for religious freedom should be “vigorously enforced.”
- Protects religious groups from being targeted by the IRS.
- Addresses some concerns about mandates contained in Obamacare.
- Provides directions to the Attorney General concerning religious liberty.
What The Executive Order Cannot Do
- Repeal the Johnson Amendment–a federal law that greatly restricts political speech by churches.
- Repeal mandates contained in Obamacare.
The Trump Administration’s Attitude Toward Religious Liberty Generally
Section 1 of the order says, “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom.”
This should send a clear message to federal employees at all levels of government about the importance of maximizing protections for religious liberty.
Protecting Religious Groups from IRS-Targeting
Section 2 of the order goes on to say that, “all executive departments and agencies (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.”
Section 2 also gives special instructions to the Department of the Treasury–which includes the IRS–not to take adverse action against a religious person or group speaking out about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.
This should help prevent the IRS from targeting religious organizations that speak out on issues like abortion or who highlight candidates’ positions on social and moral issues.
Addressing Obamacare’s Mandates
Section 3 of the executive order directs federal agencies to consider amending rules and regulations to provide greater protection for religious liberty under Obamacare’s mandates.
Many Americans understandably do not want to be forced to pay for abortions and other procedures or “medical services” that they find objectionable, but that’s exactly what Obamacare did.
Federal courts have addressed some of these concerns through rulings like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision. However rules and regulations from the Obama Administration continued to undermine religious liberty.
President Trump’s executive order should help ensure federal agencies issue rules and regulations that respect rights of conscience and religious freedom.
Directions for the U.S. Attorney General
The final sections of the executive order direct the U.S. Attorney General to provide guidance concerning religious liberty to other federal agencies and contain technical language about the order’s effects.
This order is a step in the right direction.
The President of the United States cannot write laws from the Oval Office or change laws passed by Congress. That means President Trump cannot unilaterally change Obamacare or other federal laws.
However, he can ensure his administration does not undermine religious liberty. That’s what this executive order effectively does.