12:53, May 04 106 0

2017-05-04 12:53:06

 

Trump grants antigay clergy ‘free speech & religious liberty’ protections

President Trump today fulfilled a promise to take the first step toward scrapping IRS rules that prevent non-profit organizations for advocating for political candidates or causes, with his latest executive order.

“No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors,” Trump declared before a gathering of religious leaders in the White House Rose Garden. Antigay activist Franklin Graham was in attendance.

Absent from his remarks and, from the actual executive order, is any trace of the threats to the LGBT community contained in an original draft circulated in February, the Washington Post reported. That draft, said civil libertarians and advocates, would have provided the religious right a “license to discriminate” against LGBT Americans, with a controversial provision that could have allowed religiously-minded federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers. The original order would have protected that discrimination based on “religious freedom.”

In the place of that attack on civil rights is a blanket statement that declares “it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.”

“President Trump’s executive order removes a sword of Damocles that has hung over the faith community for decades by administratively repealing the Johnson Amendment and restoring the right to political speech by pastors, churches and ministries,” said conservative Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, who once suggested President Obama was a greater threat than the Nazis of World War II.

The document’s key goal is a vow to ease restrictions imposed by the Johnson Amendment, the rule limiting political participation by tax-exempt religious groups.

Before signing the order, Trump signaled that there was more to this than eliminating what he called “this financial threat against the faith community.” He revealed he was directing the Justice Department to “develop new rules to ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans.”

“The federal government will never ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs,” Trump said. The president said he was taking action to protect liberties “given to us not by any earthly power but by our creator in heaven.”

“Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation,” Trump told supporters gathered in the Rose Garden on Thursday. “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”

By signing this order on the National Day of Prayer, he fulfilled a key campaign promise he made to a crowd of religious leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast in February: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” The Johnson amendment, originally a part of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, prevents all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from advocating for political candidates.

Trump said the federal government has “used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith.”

But changing the Internal Revenue Code requires an act of Congress. However, Trump can influence how it is enforced. ABC News reported that according to sources, the order instructs the Treasury Department not to target the tax-exempt status of churches and other institutions for supporting political candidates.

Supporters of the Johnson Amendment claim that organizations that are exempt from paying taxes to the federal government should not directly engage with those in political office who can act to increase or decrease their benefits. Those opposed claim the amendment violates the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections.

Before the signing, Trump also announced that his first foreign visits as president would be to Saudi Arabia, Israel and The Vatican, and promising to work with Muslim leaders to combat “extremism, terrorism and violence.”


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