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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 19, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 20
Trump executive order targets reproductive choice, separation of church and state

No OK for anti-LGBT discrimination
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Trump executive order targets reproductive choice, separation of church and state

No OK for anti-LGBT discrimination

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

An executive order signed by Donald Trump on May 4 will make it easier for churches to get involved in politics and for employers to deny reproductive health coverage to their employees, but it does not include language explicitly endorsing discrimination against LGBT Americans.

Trump's so-called 'Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty' was issued on May 4, designated as the National Day of Prayer, as a nod to Christian conservatives who promoted his candidacy.

'We're a nation of believers,' Trump told supporters during a signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. 'Faith is deeply embedded in the history of our country... No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the American government and the tenets of their faith.'

Trump's order instructs the IRS to ease up on enforcement of the 'Johnson Amendment,' which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns.

Passed in 1954 - and named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas - the Johnson Amendment says that churches and other nonprofit institutions that are exempt from taxation 'are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for elective public office.'

While only Congress can repeal the law, Trump's order paves the way for churches and other religious leaders to speak about politics and endorse candidates without worrying about losing their tax-exempt status.

The new executive order also allows employers to cite religious objections as a reason to deny their employees contraception coverage in employer-paid health care plans, even though such coverage is required for most employers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).

What apparently is not in the executive order is any of the language found in a draft leaked in February, which would have allowed individuals and businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people - again based on religious objections.

Civil rights groups had threatened to sue the Trump administration if the expected order included such provisions, and they may still decide to do so, based on the provisions Trump endorsed.

'The ACLU fights every day to defend religious freedom, but religious freedom does not mean the right to discriminate against or harm others,' ACLU Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling said before the order was issued.

'If President Trump signs an executive order that attempts to provide a license to discriminate against women or LGBT people, we will see him in court.'

Lambda Legal also threatened action against Trump over the order.

'We will fight this with everything we have,' the group said in a statement. 'We are prepared to sue in a very short time frame if the executive order closely resembles the leaked drafts.'

In expectation of the executive order, a coalition of 99 religious groups sent a letter to Congress supporting continued enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. The 'current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity,' they said.

In addition, a group of some 4,500 charitable, philanthropic, and religious organizations sent a letter to Congress opposing any change in federal restrictions on political activity by nonprofits. The groups said that would 'would damage the integrity and effectiveness of all charitable organizations and spawn litigation.'

Meanwhile, some religious conservatives are already expressing disappointment that Trump's order does not go far enough. The anti-Gay Alliance Defending Freedom, for example, said the order did not adequately protect people who fear government sanction if they refuse to provide services or benefits on religious or moral grounds.

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