WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a move to restore religious freedoms in the U.S., president Donald Trump signed on Thursday an executive order to protect churches from sanctions by the IRS.
In his introduction of the president during a National Day of Prayer event inside the Rose Garden, Vice President Mike Pence said the National Day of Prayer is a time to reaffirm “the vital role people of faith play in American society” and praised Trump for marking the importance of the day.
“Our President is a believer. He loves his family and he loves his country with an unshakeable faith in God,” said Pence.
After thanking the Vice-president, Trump took to the podium and declared that the war on Christianity by the government is over.
“We’re a nation of believers. Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation,” Trump said as religious leaders and members of his staff looked on. “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”
After a word of prayer with attending clergy, the president signed the executive action which effectively reverses the ban on political speech from the pulpit that was introduced in 1954 by then-Democratic Sen. Lyndon Johnson. Johnson’s bill, which was approved by Congress, gave the IRS the authority to punish tax-exempt religious organizations, including churches, for making political endorsements or participating in political campaigns.
“We are giving our churches their voices back,” Trump said.
“You are great, great people,” the president continues, pointing to the religious leaders in attendance. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”
“God bless you, and God bless America,” he concluded.
The order, “to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty”, was met with welcome praise by religious leaders from around the country.
“The first freedom in the Bill of Rights is religious freedom. America was born on the foundation of religious freedom and it is one of our most cherished liberties. There could be no better day to sign an executive order on religious freedom than the National Day of Prayer,” Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, said of the executive action.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also praised the order.
“The open season on Christians and other people of faith is coming to a close in America and we look forward to assisting the Trump administration in fully restoring America’s First Freedom,” Perkins said in a released statement,
However, critics of the president were quick to categorize the order as an attack on the LGBT community.
In a statement, (https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-statement-reports-impending-religious-freedom-executive-order) Louise Melling, ACLU’s deputy legal director said of the order: “The ACLU fights every day to defend religious freedom, but religious freedom does not mean the right to discriminate against or harm others. 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.”
When reached for statement on the ACLU’s response, a White House spokesperson said the president had, “no comment” on the organization’s threat.