Speed Reads

Trump executive orders

Trump to sign executive order aiming to allow churches to endorse political candidates

On Thursday, President Trump will sign an executive order to ease restrictions on tax-exempt churches and nonprofits endorsing political candidates and providing contraception coverage in employee insurance plans, the White House said Wednesday night. Unlike in a draft of the executive order leaked in February, this one will not free faith-based organizations and companies to refuse service to gays and lesbians or allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees.

The executive order, which Trump will sign at a ceremony with conservative Christian leaders, will say "it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty," but the only specific parts will be the broad "regulatory relief" on the already weakened Obama-era contraception mandate and the new order that the Internal Revenue Service "exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment," a little-enforced 1954 rule in the U.S. tax code that prohibits churches and charities from directly supporting or opposing candidates, if they want to be exempt from paying taxes.

Days after taking office, Trump promised he would "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," a longtime goal of some evangelic Christian leaders. Scrapping the Johnson Amendment would take an act of Congress, and House Republicans say they want to ax it as part of their tax overhaul plan. Many clergy members oppose stripping the amendment, saying they don't want to endorse candidates from the pulpit.

Trump's order will essentially tell the IRS to "carve as wide a berth as possible" in not enforcing the amendment, allowing churches to openly participate in political campaigns, at least as long as Trump is in office, Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame and an expert on church/state issues, tells The New York Times.