May 5, 2017

The Update Desk: National Day of Prayer

Well, in the end, it seems that the president did not have the courage of someone else's convictions and the executive order he signed today only goes so far in meeting the desires of 'his evangelicals' and others in his base.

Some have characterized the order as meaningless, ineffective, and "more symbolic than substantive" as it was significantly watered down from the leaked version I wrote about yesterday.

Trump, who earlier this year sneered that he would
get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.
Which, of course, they are allowed to do today, freely and without retribution, except for standing in their tax-free pulpit and telling their flock who to vote for, or against.

But when push came to shove, he did no such thing. Here is the relevant text of Thursday's Presidential Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty (with emphasis added):
Section 1.  Policy. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom. The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square (a place where representatives of faith are allowed to speak freely and without retribution) and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government (which they are today). For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans' first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government. (Why yes, yes it does.) The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections. (As it did before yesterday's bill-signing, and the day before that, and the year before that, and the decade before that...)
Section 2. Respecting Religious and Political Speech. All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by low, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech. In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, (which would need to be changed by Congress, not a stroke of a pen) that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective (which they are allowed to do today), where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury. (which occurs extraordinarily infrequently and only when such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective encouraging a vote for, or against, a particular candidate.) As used in this section, "adverse action" means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies and tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit.
Section 3. Conscience Protections with Respect to Preventive-Care Mandate. The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13(c)(4) of title 42, United States Code. (Reiterating that people-companies can "exercise religion" (which is impossible) and discriminate against their people-employees who are under no obligation to hold the same faith to get their much-needed job, or who might not even know that their company has a religion to exercise. And while, as written, this particular gem is only applicable to the preventive care mandate and protections that the Affordable Care Act provided for access to a variety of contraceptive methods, including drugs that some have concluded cause abortions but which actually don't, how long before we "shall consider issuing amended regulations"  allowing the discrimination we feared would be here?)
Section 4. Religious Liberty Guidance. In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections under Federal law. (This may be the scariest part of all).
So, all in all, it could have been worse, I guess.

And it likely will be.