President Trump signs an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

Trump's religious liberty order slammed as 'pretty much nothing'

(RNS) President Trump signed a highly anticipated executive order on religious liberty at a sun-splashed Rose Garden ceremony on the National Day of Prayer on Thursday (May 4), basking in the praise of religious leaders who blessed his action as an answer to their prayers.

“It was looking like you’d never get here, folks. But you got here!” a triumphant Trump told the gathering after a series of invocations from Baptist and Catholic leaders, and from Paula White, the prosperity gospel televangelist who is one of Trump’s main religious advisers.

Yet even before the carefully orchestrated event was over, Trump’s grand gesture toward his religious base appeared to falter as a matter of policy, and perhaps as politics: Social conservatives who had been expecting much more, and much sooner, expressed sharp disappointment, and the order itself seems unlikely to have much real impact on current laws and regulations.

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“[C]onstitutionally dubious, dangerously misleading, and ultimately harmful to the very cause that it purports to protect,” David French wrote in a blistering analysis in National Review. “In fact, he should tear it up, not start over, and do the actual real statutory and regulatory work that truly protects religious liberty.”

READ: Religious liberty executive order draws mixed reviews

“Woefully inadequate,” wrote Ryan Anderson of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a prominent commentator on religious liberty issues. The order, he added in a tweet, shows that Trump “either wasn't listening or doesn't care. Or simply caved to Left's bullying.”

Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and an expert on religious freedom issues who is respected across the political spectrum, was also unimpressed.

“This is pretty much nothing,” Laycock wrote in an email.

The two-page executive order has three main points, according to a summary that the White House released to reporters:

  • First, it declares that “it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.”
  • Second, it “directs the IRS to use maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment,” which is the 1950s-era law that threatens nonprofits – including clergy and churches — with the loss of their tax-exempt status if they engage in electioneering.
  • Third, it “provides regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate” — in other words, the requirement that employers provide free birth control coverage.

Critics said the first point was essentially boilerplate rhetoric extolling religious freedom.

More important, they said, the order has no exemptions for religious groups or businesses that object to LGBT anti-discrimination laws — a priority for Christian conservatives — so it provides no relief to bakers or florists, for example, who refuse to provide services for gay couples.

Trump's order also does not go nearly as far as a draft executive order that had circulated shortly after Trump was inaugurated in January and that had raised the hopes of religious conservatives growing anxious that Trump would not make good on his promise to address religious liberty.

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Moreover, the new order itself is carefully hedged in its language on the two points of policy that it addresses, the contraception mandate and the Johnson Amendment.

For example, it asks the secretary of Health and Human Services “consider” issuing regulations to provide relief from the contraception mandate and says it must be done within the constraints of “applicable law” — that law currently being the health care law passed under President Obama.

So the order itself doesn’t really do anything to the mandate and it appears to mean that much would depend on the outcome of the other major Washington story on Thursday, the House’s close vote to repeal and replace Obamacare – a vote that might not be repeated in the Senate.

The same is true for the language regarding the Johnson Amendment.

“All executive departments and agencies shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech,” the executive order says.

READ: What is the Johnson Amendment and why did Trump target it?

At the Rose Garden ceremony, Trump painted a picture — as he has in the past — of religious believers facing virtual state-sponsored oppression under his predecessor thanks to the Johnson Amendment and other laws, saying that any pastor who spoke about “issues of public or political importance” was threatened with devastating financial consequences.

President Trump displays the Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C., on May 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

“The abuses were widespread. The abuses were all over," Trump said.

“For too long the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs,” Trump declared. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors,” he said, adding: “We are giving our churches their voices back.”

In reality, the IRS has only investigated houses of worship for political speech a handful of times. And in the past 60 years only one church has lost its tax exemption for politicking.

Congregations ranging from liberal African-American churches to conservative Catholic parishes have routinely spoken out on political issues and pastors have openly endorsed candidates without fear of retribution from the IRS or any other federal agency.

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As Laycock noted, the order's language on the Johnson Amendment “does not say that churches should be allowed to endorse candidates. It says only that they should not be found guilty of implied endorsements on facts where secular organizations would not be. I have heard no stories of that happening.”

Also, surveys show that an overwhelming majority of Americans – about 8 in 10 – do not want houses of worship engaging in partisan political campaigning and opposition to such electioneering is even higher among clergy themselves.

“For the record, I have no interest in endorsing candidates from the pulpit,” tweeted Denny Burk, a pastor in Louisville, Ky., and a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And I would be wary of any preacher that does.”

READ: Survey: Evangelical leaders really don’t want to endorse politicians

In short, few believe the Johnson Amendment is much of a problem and many of those who do don't think Trump’s executive order is much of a solution.

As Laycock said, this all “may lead to good things for believers down the road, but it does nothing immediately.”

Even the ACLU, which initially vowed to file suit against the order, later reversed course because the order had nothing in it that could be challenged. It was, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said, "an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome."


  1. It is what it is. Everybody knows that the president’s two close advisers — Ivanka & Jared — are three shades to the left of Hillary Clinton concerning gay marriage.

    And that’s on top of the public promise(s) Trump gave to the gay activists in an effort to court their votes, just as he likewise courted the Christian votes.

    So none of the Christian conservatives want to admit it, but it’s a miracle that Trump issued ANY half-hearted religious liberty executive order at all. Instead of complaining, the next move should simply be for Christians to quickly use whatever small helps this order may offer.

  2. What don’t you understand that you can’t use your religion to discriminate! I am sick of religion being used to harm others. What don’t you understand about the NO establishment clause of the 1st amendment?

  3. “This is pretty much nothing!”

    Gawdamighty, this is funny.

    We told you that 2Rump was an immoral conman, but you tossed your values aside and voted for him anyway. And now you are dismayed and surprised that this whole thing was a con.

    But the best line– Lyin’?– was Lyin’ Ryan Anderson. Trump caved in to the bullying of the left? Where’s the bully hiding? Under than thing 2Rump wears on his head?

    Or was the best line from Robert George, who blamed Jared and Ivanka? Really, Robbie. Attack Trumpee’s family if you don’t get your way. That will convince him, I’m sure.

    If your hero turns out to be a big nothing, by all means, blame the people who had nothing to do with anything and make THEM the villains.

  4. So your hero was a con man, and it’s always someone else’s fault.

  5. So the Wiccans, Pagans, Satanists, Spaghetti Monster religions all feel let down by this too? Are their deeply held beliefs under still under threat?

  6. He was likely counseled that an XO containing what the far-right christians wanted would be unconstitutional and end up in the courts – he couldn’t risk that embarrassment.

  7. And Reform and conservative Jews, and Unitarians, and Episcopalians, and UCC, and PC-USA, Old catholic, and a host of others too long to mention?

  8. Except that your gang (the HRC), and the abortion fanatics at NARAL, really put in a visible effort this week acting like there’s something or something(s) that really scare them about this religious liberty order. They clearly do NOT dismiss this order as “pretty much nothing.”

    So like I suggested, we Christians just need to stop complaining, mull over the material, patiently figure out the scary part (or in what direction a scary part can best be pursued over time), and then make the scary part come true for HRC and NARAL (and the ACLU too, while you’re at it!!)

  9. You failed to mention that James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Samuel Rodriguez all expressed a positive, confident opinion of the new religious liberty order. They didn’t say it was perfect — it’s clearly not — but they can see that it’s going to be of some help around here.

    (Added in edit: please add Ralph Reed and Franklin Graham to the endorsement list too.)

    That fact alone should make the folks on YOUR side of the fence pause for a good little while, yes?

  10. Nope. Even the ACLU has already said it’s not worth challenging in court.

  11. But even there, you can catch the ACLU putting up a convenient little disclaimer at the end of their press blurb.
    “The ACLU stands ready to sue the Trump administration and in the event that this order triggers any official government action at all, we will see Trump in court, again.”

    So in fact the ACLU is already itching to sue, but they want to wait and see specifically how people choose to put this order into action. THEN, they’ll announce the court challenge that they said wasn’t worth it. (Heh!)

    Which highlights Ralph Reed’s accurate statement: “This is just the first bite at the apple, not the last…this order is a giant step in the right direction.”

  12. Goodness, it sounds as if you are worried about some sort of potential threat with Trump’s order. Not an explicit wordy attempt to overturn a no-good court decision, but a more subtle, more de-facto, more dangerous threat.

    One in which ordinary, insignificant people simply rise up, one brave and principled refusal at a time, and use their religious freedom to take a personal stand for what is right and beneficial for America. Literally overturning an evil court decision one person at a time.

    Yes, I can see how that might bother some folks. Sleep well tonight, Leyla!

  13. Jared and Ivanka just might be able to save our republic by manipulating the orange one.

  14. Dobson, Perkins, Reed, and Graham never reacted to anything any right-wing Republican did negatively because they’re nothing but politicians. Rodriguez I don’t know but if he gets mentioned in the same breath as those enemies of freedom there’s not much to wonder about.

  15. Well…this is good news then! It appeared initially that the order was going to be an awful one. At least it will not cause the religious overreach the conservatives want.

  16. Goodness, it sounds as if floydlee believes spitting nastiness and emotional abuse is Christlike.
    He sure is devout, ain’t he?

  17. On the contraception mandate, Cardinal DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the executive order “begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate.” DiNardo stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”
    He noted that church agencies have specifically experienced such a restriction in adoption, education, health care and other social services, where he said “widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility.”
    Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor, visited by Pope Francis while in the US in support of their lawsuit, said in a statement that the sisters are “grateful for the president’s order.”

  18. Dondo is in everybody out there
    Everybody’s got Mondo in them!
    Everybody except two people that is
    Yeah, two people!

    The evil opposite of Dondo
    The Anti-Dondo
    Anti-Dondo got no Dondo in ’em, lemme tell ya
    George Soros has no Dondo in him

    Yeah, and Dondo was in Joan Rivers
    But he had to get out, man!
    He’s had to get out!
    Listen up Joanie Baby!

    Joan Rivers was killed because she foolishly called a spade a spade. Michelle is a guy.

  19. Jesus Christ who was born Jewish was very upset with his people about the Talmud. Jesus said, “You teach for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:9 Jesus pointed out to them as Vipers, the Synagogue of Satan and “ofExpand text… your father the Devil” because “By your traditions, you have made the Word of God” of no effect, Mark 7:13.

    MARTIN LUTHER, Table Talk of Martin Luther, translated by William Hazlet, page 43
    “But the Jews are so hardened that they listen to nothing; though overcome by testimonies they yield not an inch. It is a pernicious race, oppressing all men by their usury and rapine. If they give a prince or magistrate a thousand florins, they extort twenty thousand from the subjects in payment. We must ever keep on guard against them.”

    John Calvin’s and John Kerry’s real name was Kohn. He was a Judas Goat to divide and conquer the movement Martin Luther started.

  20. Perhaps Trump is doing what the libs do: use use a series of xo’s little by little to undo the policies. Keep hope alive, as Jesse says.

  21. And the facade will last until the next time some business is sued for refusing to be an accessory to sinful activity, whether that be a revisionist “marriage” or refusing to provide birth control to its employees. At which point the faithful will demand that Trump honor his promise.

  22. Oh, stop your whining G. There are ZERO personal insults or attacks against Leyla in my post. (And that’s no accident–that’s how I generally do my business.)

    But yes, Leyla’s post does sound stressed-out for no reason (or at least the ACLU currently says there’s no reason). So I didn’t mind placing a little wink-nudge at the end of my explanation. I like it, I stand by it. You disagree, well so you do.

    (But maybe you’d like to actually deal with the explanation offered. Better yet, how about YOU sit back and respect Leyla enough to let Leyla respond in Leyla’s own words?)

    Meanwhile, on the trivia question, I sure AM devout (although the local folks may disagree on the exact assessment of what I’m devout at.) C’est la vie!

  23. Churches should be able to have unlimited political speech — as long as they also pay taxes, just like the rest of us with political opinions. It’s the price of admission.

  24. Oh, great!! Yet another antisemitic rant, buried in an avalanche of obscurity.

  25. Hurrah! More antisemitic rants! Martin Luther is alive and well!!!

  26. You will try and try and try and try to put your theological lipstick on this pig.

  27. Attack his _Jewish_ family, even better.

  28. Ah the priests of Ba’al gathered round the prez. All we are missing in this drama of nothingness is to see them dancing and gyrating around the executive order.

  29. It is a threat to women and minorities. You need only look at what the conservatives really want – to discriminate against LGBTQ and to allow employers to make health decisions for their employees.

  30. There is no such thing as an abortion fanatic. You don’t see us trying to force every woman to have an abortion, do you? Why do you think that YOUR view of the order is any less valid than mine?

  31. Yeah, the Little Sisters had it so hard. All they needed to do was sign a 1 page form. Regarding government grants, if you can’t comply with the requirements, you don’t deserve the grant.

  32. Actually, one definite area has now been identified, (maybe there will be other areas in the future), where Trump’s order clearly changes the game and gives a badly-needed boost to America’s religious liberty meter.

    You DO have something to worry about, if you are opposed to constitutional freedoms of religion and speech.

    See my explanation in Mark Silk’s new “nothingburger” thread.

  33. You keep hoping. There has gotta be shiny diamond somewhere in that turd that 2Rump laid.

  34. Because it’s his and not yours.

    And because Jesus told him so.

  35. Trump’s order is a sick joke. His only interest in religious liberty is to sabotage it. Examples: His steamy advocacy of forcing all taxpayers to support religious institutions with his school voucher plan and his appointment of the totally unqualified Betsy DeVos as education secretary, and his insane war on women’s health and rights of conscience on reproductive matters. Trump is defecating on the religious liberty enshrined by our Founders in the First Amendment. — Edd Doerr

  36. If so, then the libs didn’t do a very smart job of picking a boycott target. But no surprise there, of course.

  37. The one thing that a quick perusal of headlines from the major liberal news sites demonstrates beyond any doubt is that liberals find pretty much everything “terrifying.” 😀

  38. I wonder how this will play out, when people realize that this Amendment only applies to the Congress. It says “Congress shall make no law …” in your favor nor mine.

  39. Most of them are way too old. Take a look at the photo.

  40. You should listen to the conservatives!!!

    Why, by asking them to treat other people as they would be treated, I am persecuting them and forcing them to violate their delicate consciences. I’ve already. Even blocked by two snowflakes in the last week who simply withered, or melted, or whatever it is they do when I suggested that they be nice to people.

  41. You wrote, in part, “Because it’s his and not yours. And because Jesus told him so.” (This was in response to Leyla1001nights, right?) I would suggest holding your fire – until you have your target clearly identified, and (b) showing actual words from your target to make your case for you.

  42. I think you flatter yourself a bit too much. I’ve blocked several posters simply because they never have anything substantive to contribute and the comment thread reads much more cleanly without them. Not everyone has unlimited time to scroll through reams of cyber-snark.

    I haven’t blocked you, of course, but at this point it wouldn’t be an altogether terrible idea because I’m pretty sure I’ve already heard just about everything you have.

  43. Did I say “insults and attacks”, or did I say “nastiness and emotional abuse”?

    “But yes, Leyla’s post does sound stressed-out for no reason [that I allow]…So I didn’t mind placing a little [nastiness and emotional abuse] at the end of my [put-down, to salt the wounds]. I like [my sadism], I stand by it.”

    “Better yet, how about YOU sit back and respect Leyla enough to let Leyla respond in Leyla’s own words?”

    Batckatcha. I was talking to Leyla, not you. Have a nice day!

  44. She was responding to Floydlee. I was answering her last question. I’m pretty sure she knew that. But I’ll ask her.

  45. Hi, Leyla. Tom S. Asks a question of me right below your posting. I answered him. I am assuming you understood what I was getting at. Am I right or wrong? Do I need to explain myself further?

  46. No, you haven’t. But do whatever you need to.

    It’s funny. I’ve blocked only one person, a vicious antisemitic and viciously antigay. But perhaps my standards are different than yours.

  47. In other words, Ben was trying to get all cute in MY direction, while addressing another party (Leyla).

    But don’t worry, you’ll get used to Ben’s (and mine) writing styles soon.
    Stay tuned!

  48. Some people like to rock. Some people like to roll
    But Pope Francis likes to sit around to satisfy his soul
    He likes his women short. He like his women tall
    And that’s about the only thing Pope Francis really digs

    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    He don’t let anything boggle his mind
    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

    Some people say Francis is lazy and his life’s a wreck
    But that stuff doesn’t faze me, I get unemployment checks
    and Francis runs around in boots, drugs and booze he craves
    And that’s the way I wanna be when someone digs my grave

    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    He don’t let anything boggle his mind
    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

    Francis knew a man who worked from nine to five
    Just to pay his monthly bills was why he stayed alive
    So keep your country cottage, your house and lawn so green
    Francis wants a one-room pad where he can make the scene

    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    He don’t let anything boggle his mind
    Francis belongs to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

  49. Bill found Hillary by dragging a dollar Bill across my trailer Park. I wrote a song about being with Hillary.

    Came in thirsty
    Came in tired
    Out of the rain
    And into the fire

    She fed me Mezcal
    She turned the lamps down
    She pulled the shades down
    You all know I’m a liar

    She hiked her dress up
    I can’t remember what it said
    She glowed by the gaslight
    She was the limelight

    “Are you lost son?
    Are you a comrade?
    Been on the run, son?
    Out of directions?”

    She let her hair down
    It was orange and black
    Her eyes were wild
    Her eyeballs rolled back

    Salt to lime
    She took her time
    Take a pull from the bottle
    Go blind

    Hillary Rider
    If I find her
    If I love her
    Could never be the same

    Hillary Rider
    How could I have
    been beside her
    Could never be the same

    “Are you lonely?”
    “I’ve been lonesome.”
    “If you could only…”
    She’d ask the questions

    “Have you ever loved?”
    I told her I had, once
    She asked if true love
    Was all in an instance

    She showed me her scars
    She had as a child
    “Do you hear silence
    Like a fallen angel?”

    She just whispered
    My ears shaken
    “There’s a million souls
    I have broken and mangled

    There’s a million hearts
    That never felt a beat
    Stay for the winter
    Just until the meter melts.”

    Hillary Rider
    If I find her
    If I love her
    Could never be the same

    Hillary Rider
    How could I have
    been beside her
    Could never be the same

  50. I apologize for issuing such a public reproof.

  51. It was not a problem in the slightest, it’s rough out here in the internet jungle!???

  52. “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”
    Another average day for Trump.

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