What the Executive Order on Religious Liberty Entailsbeing there // on Tuesday May 9, 2017
Last Thursday, President Trump signed an executive order concerning religious liberty and free speech. In it, the president established the policy of the executive branch “to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom” and provided direction to executive department agencies and offices in two main areas:
First, the order directed executive departments and agencies to “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” This most likely served as a reference to the “Johnson Amendment,” which, since 1954, has restricted the ability of tax-exempt organizations such as churches from political campaign intervention. While an executive order cannot repeal a law such as the Johnson Amendment, it can guide executive agencies in the enforcement of the law. In the order, the president specifically directed that the Department of the Treasury (IRS) not take any adverse action against an organization on the basis that the organization “has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”
Second, the order directed executive agencies to consider issuing amended regulations “to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate” of the Affordable Care Act that require many employers to cover contraception in employee health insurance plans.
The order also directed the Attorney General to issue further guidance, as appropriate, interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.
An executive order is a directive from the president to the federal agencies and officers under his authority to take a specific action or to change an existing practice. It remains to be seen what guidance or amended federal regulations are generated by executive department agencies in response to the order. There is also the possibility that the order will be challenged by opponents in federal court.
You can view the executive order on religious liberty in full here.