Trump limits IRS action over church political activity

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that will allow churches and other religious organizations to become more active politically without risking their tax-exempt status.

But plenty of other people are unhappy with Trump's executive order, including many religious leaders and free speech advocates.

Widely considered to be a thank-you gift to his evangelical supporters, the order "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" calls for all tax-exempt organizations - but more specifically, churches - to be given the freedom to engage in political activity without suffering tax penalties.

Trump's order also asks federal agencies to consider issuing new regulations that the White House says could help religious groups that object to paying for contraception under the Affordable Care Act health law.

In an event with various faith leaders at the White House, Donald Trump yesterday signed an order that will target the Johnson Amendment, legislation which bars tax-exempt non-profits, including churches, from endorsing political candidates.

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"Whether by executive order or through backroom deals, it's clear that the Trump administration and Congressional leadership are using religion as a wedge to further divide the country and permit discrimination", said ACLU executive director Anthony Romero.

Trump will sign the executive order Thursday morning on the National Day of Prayer. "We are giving our churches their voices back".

Trump's executive order sets up the likelihood that women who work with organizations that have faith-based objections to providing reproductive care will no longer have access to counseling, screening, breastfeeding support or contraception.

Leaders of some faith groups condemned the order, saying it would damage congregations by politicizing them.

Several leaders interviewed said they anxious that Trump's move could be unevenly enforced, allowing conservative Christian churches to promote political candidates without extending the same exemptions to other views or other denominations.

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The order was celebrated by Trump ally Robert Jeffress, and Hispanic church leader Samuel Rodriguez said it would end the "subversive oppression" of Christians in the US.

Update, 5:57 pm: The ACLU will not be bringing a lawsuit over the executive order, which it describes as "an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome".

"As we look at the violence around the world. we realize how truly blessed we are to live in a nation that honors the freedom of worship", the president added. At his first National Prayer Breakfast as president, he said he would "totally destroy" the amendment. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian organization that heralded Thursday's executive order, called the Johnson Amendment "overly broad" and said it had been used to censor speech.

"Tell the president that the nation's first liberty demands more respect - and more protection - than the risky nothingness of this executive order", wrote David French, a National Review Online writer.

Trump's order was seen as much less impactful than a February draft that included a provision that could have let federal contractors discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers on the basis of faith.

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Leaders of the United States religious left, a rising force of opposition to Trump's hard-line stance on immigration and healthcare, said they were poised to benefit from the move, which lifts the risk of religious groups losing their tax-exempt status if they advocate for particular candidates. "We must never infringe on the noble tradition of change from the church and progress from the pew", the president said.


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