Trump Keeps His Promise to Restore Pastors’ Free Speech Rights

The Nation, a hard-core leftist magazine, published last night what it claims is a copy of an executive order entitled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” I normally don’t find myself hoping and praying that something The Nation reports might actually be true, but this is an exception.

The executive order is intended to require federal agencies to apply a broad version of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  That’s the federal law enacted by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed by Bill Clinton back in the days when Democrats at least pretended not to hate Bible-believing Christians.

It appears that we now have a president who actually takes religious liberty seriously.  The Nation and the leftist attorneys it quotes are, of course, having a fit.  But for countless Americans who have been made to care, this executive order would be great news.

Of particular interest to readers of the The Resurgent is Section 4(e) of the executive order, which states as follows

The Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure that the Department of the Treasury shall not impose any tax or tax penalty, delay or deny tax-exempt status, or disallow tax deductions for contributions made under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3), or otherwise make unavailable or deny any tax benefits to any person, church, synagogue, house of worship or other religious organization:

(1) on the basis of such person or organization speaking on moral or political issues from a religious perspective where religious speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as an intervention in a political campaign by the Department of the Treasury, or

(2) on the basis that such person or organization believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.

(emphasis added.)

The short, English translation of Section 4(e) is that it bars the IRS from enforcing the Johnson Amendment, a law requiring pastors and their churches to be stripped of their tax exempt status if they support or oppose a candidate for public office, no matter how noxious and bigoted the candidate may be with regard to moral and religious issues.  While many pastors are afraid to defy the Johnson Amendment, many others have openly defied it each year in what has come to be known as Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  The IRS has not had to gall to actually attempt to enforce the Johnson Amendment against most of these pastors.  Thus, under Section 4(e), the IRS cannot do so at all from this point forward because such remarks by pastors have “not ordinarily been treated as an intervention in a political campaign by the Department of the Treasury.”

If the idea sounds familiar to you, it might be because you read my post on the subject last week. Trump had promised throughout the campaign to champion a legislative repeal of the Johnson Amendment.  I recommended that he not wait for Congress and simply repeal the Johnson Amendment by executive order, something well within his authority given the Amendment’s patent unconstitutionality.

I suspect the White House came up with Section 4(e) on its own, but it’s fun to think that the Trump crew might actually be implementing ideas they read about in The Resurgent and other conservative websites. In any event, Trump is making it very difficult for conservatives to continue being #NeverTrumpers.

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Matthew Monforton

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