Trump Gives Churches “Their Voices Back” With Approval To Take Part In Partisan Politics

The Washington Times: While the action was long awaited on the right, some conservatives said they’re disappointed that it doesn’t go far enough.

The president’s order is aimed at easing an IRS provision that prohibits churches from directly opposing or endorsing political candidates. The action will direct the IRS to immediately “exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden” of the so-called Johnson Amendment, a tax provision dating from 1954.

The directive also will allow nonprofit organizations to deny certain health coverage for religious reasons. It’s aimed at protecting Christian groups like Little Sisters of the Poor, who have waged a court battle against the government mandate under Obamacare, from being forced to pay for abortion services.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said his agency will use the order to “re-examine” Obamacare’s mandate on contraceptive services.

“We will be taking action in short order to follow the president’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees,” Mr. Price said.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would sue the administration by the end of the day to block the order from taking effect, calling the president’s action “a broadside to our country’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state.”

“President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. “It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again.”

As Mr. Trump spoke about the Little Sisters’ case, he even invited some of the nuns in the audience to join him on the stage.

“Your long ordeal will soon be over,” the president told the nuns.

When one of the sisters told Mr. Trump the court case has been going on for five years, the president asked her, “You had good lawyers?”

“Where are your lawyers?” the president asked, scanning the audience. “Stand up, c’mon, stand up. Do you mind if I use your lawyers? Good job.”

He added, “With this executive order, we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty.”

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover contraceptives at no cost to patients. After the Supreme Court ruled that the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government created an accommodation for closely held, for-profit businesses that have a religious objection, which involves filling out a form to arrange for a third party to provide coverage instead.

But the Little Sisters and several other religious groups say the accommodation still forces them to be complicit in providing people with contraception against their religious beliefs.

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The Johnson Amendment is actually a law, championed by Democratic Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas when he ran for re-election. His target was not a church but a conservative nonprofit that advocated for the election of his opponent.

Johnson, then Senate minority leader, introducing an amendment to Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code on tax-exempt charitable organizations, specifying that they couldn’t be involved in partisan politics.

The measure wasn’t considered controversial in Congress; there is no record of any debate.

By administratively removing the Johnson Amendment, Faith & Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed said, the president’s order “removes a sword of Damocles that has hung over the faith community for decades.”

He said ending the Obamacare mandates that violate the religious faith of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other faith-based nonprofits “lifts a cloud of fear over people of faith and ensures they will no longer be subjected to litigation, harassment and persecution simply for expressing their religious beliefs.”

“This is just the first bite at the apple, not the last,” Mr. Reed said. We still support the full statutory repeal of the Johnson Amendment and Obamacare mandates, but this order is a giant step in the right direction in protecting the First Amendment rights of Christians and other Americans of conscience and faith.” Read the whole thing...