Trump executive order on religious liberty to focus on Johnson Amendment

The executive order President Trump is expected to sign Thursday will be focused on the Johnson Amendment and allow non-profit organizations to deny certain health coverage for religious reasons, administration sources told Fox News Wednesday.

Trump will instruct the Treasury Department and the IRS to not enforce the provisions of the Johnson Amendment regarding political activity in churches and non-profit organizations, according to sources.

The timing and contents of the order, which would come on the National Day of Prayer, are still “very fluid” and there are still several drafts, according to a senior administration official.

The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and enacted into law in 1954, essentially regulates tax-exempt organizations such as churches, and religious groups from being too politically involved.

Trump previously campaigned against the amendment, and in February said he would “destroy” the amendment that conservative groups claim restricted political speech by tax-exempt churches.

In addition, sources tell Fox News the executive order will also allow non-profit organizations, hospitals, educational institutions, and businesses to deny certain health coverage for religious reasons,. That would entail protecting Christian groups like Little Sisters of the Poor from being forced to pay for abortion services.

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An early draft of the order, leaked in February, would have established broad exemptions for people and groups to claim religious objections under strong language. Vice President Pence has been a proponent of the plan, and his office has been reportedly pushing for it for months.

While governor of Indiana, Pence signed a similar state law on religious liberty that stirred up controversy across the country, but was seen as a legislative win and rallying cry for social conservatives.

Progressive critics have argued the executive order would allow discrimination against the LGBT community at the federal level.

“The ACLU fights every day to defend religious freedom, but religious freedom does not mean the right to discriminate against or harm others,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Wednesday. “If President Trump signs an executive order that attempts to provide a license to discriminate against women or LGBT people, we will see him in court.”