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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - President Trump signed his much-anticipated executive order on religious liberty Thursday morning, coinciding with the National Day of Prayer. He was surrounded by 100 conservative and religious leaders on the White House lawn, including Washington, D.C.'s Cdl. Donald Wuerl, who offered an opening speech.
"We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore," Trump declared at the podium. "And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever."
The executive order weakens the Johnson Amendment, a law that prohibits religious entities from endorsing political candidates, but which has at times been abused by the IRS to go after socially conservative speech offered by pastors.
The Johnson Amendment can only be repealed by Congress, but Trump's executive order directs the IRS to "exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment."
The order also provides relief for faith-based entities from being forced to participate in contraception coverage for employees. Trump welcomed to the podium members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who recently won a court victory after a protracted legal battle over Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.
"I want you to know that your long ordeal will soon be over," Trump told the Sisters. "It's been a long, hard ordeal."
Immediately after the president signed the order, Tom Price, HHS Secretary, vowed to act "in short order [to] safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees."
The Trump administration has come under fire from pro-life groups for its decision to file a 60-day extension on the Little Sisters case. Instead of dropping the lawsuit, on April 25 the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to grant it extra time to negotiate with the plaintiffs to work out a solution. The DOJ also noted the issues presented "are complex" and the new Trump administration is not yet fully staffed.
And critics are claiming Trump's executive order on religious liberty does far less than it seems.
An earlier leaked version of the draft executive order would have protected Christian businesses from being forced to participate in gay weddings. The version signed Thursday left out such language.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal firm, published a statement by senior attorney Greg Boyle claiming the order "recalls [Trump's] campaign promises but leaves them unfulfilled."
And conservative commentator Ben Shapiro remarked of the order, "This is a fig leaf. It does not protect religious businesses across the country, does not build a wall around the First Amendment, and doesn't even win Trump points with the mainstream media."
And Paul Weber, president of the Family Policy Alliance, agreed, saying the executive order "doesn't go nearly far enough."