Religious Law

Trump signs executive order relaxing IRS ban on political activity by tax-exempt churches

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President Donald Trump. Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock, Inc.

Updated: President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that directs the Internal Revenue Service to exercise restraint when enforcing restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt churches and charities.

Trump signed the order in a Rose Garden ceremony that coincides with the National Day of Prayer, reports the Washington Post and USA Today.

The order declares that “it shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom,” the New York Times and the Washington Post reported in advance stories.

Lifting the ban would require Congress to change the federal tax code, which prevents organizations that seek tax-exempt status from supporting or opposing political candidates, the articles explain. Trump instead plans to “exercise maximum enforcement discretion” to ease the ban, a White House official told reporters before the signing ceremony.

The order also instructs federal agencies to consider issuing amended regulations to ease the process for religious employers who object to providing contraception under the Affordable Care Act, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.

But the order does not include provisions that would have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against the LGBT community on grounds of religious freedom, as called for in a draft of the order leaked in February.

The American Civil Liberties Union intends to challenge the order in a lawsuit to be filed Thursday, according to a statement by the group’s executive director, Anthony Romero.

“The actions taken today are a broadside to our country’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state,” the statement said. “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.”

Updated at 12:40 p.m. to include ACLU statement; updated at 3:24 p.m. to include link to the text of the order. Updated on May 5 to include information from the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

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