President Donald Trump has just signed an executive order on religious liberty.
This had been rumored for several months, but on Thursday, the National Day of Prayer, President Trump officially signed the new executive order, delivering a speech from the Rose Garden about the importance of protecting religious liberty.
So what exactly is this executive order? What does it do? Here’s what you need to know.
1. It Directs the IRS to Exercise Discretion in Enforcing the Johnson Amendment
One of the main goals of this executive order is to, as the administration told reporters on Wednesday night, “alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment.”
The Johnson amendment is a provision of the United States tax code which prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing political candidates or engaging in political activity; Donald Trump and other Republicans have argued that this restricts the first amendment rights of churches and religious groups.
“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us,” Trump said in a speech in February, according to The New York Times. “That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
Under current law, churches can engage in political speech, but by doing so, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
2. It Doesn’t Completely Repeal the Johnson Amendment
Although the executive order signed today has the broad goal of alleviating the burden of the Johnson Amendment, it does not actually fully get rid of it.
After all, Congress would need to be responsible for repealing the Johnson Amendment, and this is not something President Donald Trump can accomplish on his own.
However, a repeal of the Johnson Amendment is reportedly being written into tax legislation being developed in the House of Representatives, according to The Washington Post.
For now, the executive order as signed today directs the IRS to exercise its discretion in its enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.
3. It Seeks to Provid ‘Regulatory Relief’ for Objectors to Obamacare’s Contraceptive Mandate
Another aspect of the executive order is that it provides “regulatory relief” to objectors to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring employers to cover contraceptives in their health care plans.
A handout provided to reporters on Wednesday night noted that this is supported by the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.
In that landmark Supreme Court case, the court decided that Hobby Lobby did not need to cover contraceptives in their female employees’ health care plans. This aspect of Obamacare has already been dramatically scaled back by the courts.
In the order itself, it is stated that the secretary of Health and Human Services should “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventative care mandate…”
4. It Directs the Department of Justice to Investigate Violations of Religious Freedom
In addition, the executive order directs the Department of Justice to investigate violations of religious freedom.
Trump during his speech from the Rose Garden today brought up members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious institute, saying that he would ensure that people like them can not be discriminated against.
This is one aspect of the bill that was retained from the draft leaked to The Nation in February; that draft established a new section at the Department of Justice “that will ensure that the religious freedom of persons and religious organizations is protected throughout the United States, and shall investigate and, if necessary, take or coordinate appropriate action under applicable religious freedom laws.”
5. It Is Far Less Broad Than Some Early Drafts
This executive order is not nearly as broad as some early drafts of the order that had been going around in recent weeks.
Back in February, for example, a version of the order was leaked to The Nation. In that one, the definition of a religious organization was dramatically expanded, and it allowed for any person or organization to object to regulations or to providing services if they have a problem with them on a religious basis. Critics argued that it would allow for discrimination against LGBT Americans.
Nothing like this is in the final version of the executive order, and in general, this is far more narrow and less sweeping order than had been expected.