May 4 (UPI) — White House officials said President Donald Trump on Thursday will sign an executive order to ease the enforcement of rules prohibiting tax-exempt religious institutions from politics.
Trump will sign the order, which promises to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.” He will also direct federal agencies to exempt some religious organizations, such as churches, charities and universities, from mandates under former President Barack Obama‘s Affordable Care Act that require employers to provide employees with health coverage for contraception.
Trump is expected to sign the order to mark the National Day of Prayer at the White House. White House officials said Trump walked back from a provision seen in an earlier draft leaked in February that could allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers on the basis of faith.
Trump’s executive order will instead give the IRS discretion on whether to enforce the Johnson Amendment, a U.S. tax code provision implemented in 1954 that prohibits most non-profits from participating in any political activity, whether it’s to support or oppose a particular candidate. The executive order will leave it up to the IRS to determine who to punish for possible Johnson Amendment violations.
A senior White House official on a conference call with reporters said the executive order does not change current law, and any activity considered illegal prior to Trump’s signing will remain illegal after.
In February during the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump promised to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
Johnson Amendment violations can result in a revocation of a group’s tax-exempt status and excise tax liability. Republicans have tried for years to repeal the Johnson Amendment, arguing that it hinders freedom of speech. A repeal of the provision requires approval from Congress.