In another campaign promise fulfillment, President Trump signed an important executive order reassuring that his administration will “honor and enforce” protections of religious freedoms in the First Amendment. Of its key points, probably the most important is that it directs the Department of Treasury to “not take any adverse action against” any religious institution or individual for engagement in political speech. This has relevance to the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which puts religious organizations at risk of having their tax-exempt status challenged for political participation. The amendment, of course, is very rarely enforced, but has had a chilling effect on many institutions, and the language in the order, while probably mainly symbolic, is welcomed.
The order also provides regulatory relief for religious objectors to the onerous preventive services mandate of Obamacare, a position supported by the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
There are a number of groups on the right that are disappointed that the order didn’t go far enough in protections for those service providers who decline service to same sex weddings, for example, but with everything else the President has on his plate right now, he was no doubt smart not to be overly provocative in this area and this order had the right tone and balance. Hopefully, more to come. And, of course, the best thing Trump has done for religious liberty was the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.