Declaring he was giving churches their "voices back", President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday aimed at easing an IRS rule limiting political activity for religious organizations - a move that fell far short of a more sweeping order some supporters had expected.
"If churches and other religious institutions read this order as an invitation to start politicking, they are mistaken", said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt.
The Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty directs the IRS to provide "regulatory relief" to faith-based organizations that are tax-exempt, a White House spokesman said on Wednesday night.
Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders as well as a prominent US rabbi joined Trump when he signed the order instructing the Internal Revenue Service to "alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment", the 1954 law prohibiting organizations that have tax-free status, including churches, from participating in political campaigns or supporting any particular candidate.
The order also directs federal agencies to exempt some religious groups from providing birth control to employees and staff, as required under President Obama's Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
"After careful review of the order's text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process", the statement said.
However, there are limits to what this executive order can do, and Trump himself is not able to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which would take an act of Congress. "We need to give people the right to practice what they believe in their houses of worship and where they work and where they go and where they live".
What's worse, the order leaves decisions concerning enforcement of the Johnson Amendment in the hands of the IRS, a department that has punished religious conservatives in the past. "The executive order allows the IRS to restrict the activity it now considers political, but prohibits the IRS from expanding the restrictions to cover activity not covered before the executive order".
Currently, under the Johnson Amendment, churches are not allowed to endorse or oppose a political candidate.
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For the second time in his short presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty that's not almost as meaningful as his supporters and critics thought.
One thing that was not included was a provision allowing religious organizations to avoid serving and hiring members of the LGBTQ community.
"We will continue our steadfast charge to defend Americans' right to exercise their religion and ensure their freedom from having others' beliefs forced upon them". They said the IRS rule protects houses of worship and religious groups from political pressure.
During remarks Thursday, Trump said the order would prevent religious groups from being singled out for their political views.
"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.
Dr Jerry Johnson of National Religious Broadcasters said much was missing from the order, but it should be praised as an "emergency brake on the government's movement toward coercion and discrimination".
The news came hours after the measure, which does very little to effectively protect and restore America's first freedom, was signed by President Trump, who was surrounded by religious leaders.
Several prominent leaders of the religious left said it violated the USA separation of church and state.