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Trump exaggerates a threat to religious freedom

President Donald Trump marked the National Day of Prayer on Thursday by signing an executive order repealing the Johnson Amendment, which targets religious leaders who engage in political speech by threatening their tax-exempt status.

"We are always grateful for the efforts of leaders to safeguard religious freedom and protect the beliefs and religious exercise of all people", the statement reads. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been and remains committed to political neutrality.

Issued on the National Day of Prayer, the order also asks the IRS to soften its enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the USA tax code that bars churches and tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates.

The order "also provides "regulatory relief" for organizations that object on religious grounds to a provision in Obamacare that mandates employers provide certain health services, including coverage for contraception", CNN reported. "We will see Trump in court, again", ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement. It would require an act of Congress to change the law itself, but Trump's order instructs the Treasury Department to "not take any adverse action" against religious leaders or organizations who speak "about moral or political issues from a religious perspective". Before signing the order, the Republican president cited historically black churches and slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.as drivers of USA social progress.

While Trump's action was applauded by many in the Rose Garden, some religious groups criticized him for what they characterized as a vague directive that didn't live up to his campaign rhetoric.

Thus far the Left's response to the order has been quite tepid, with both CNN and MSNBC describing it simply as "controversial", their standard term for any socially conservative policy. In meetings with religious leaders previous year, Trump pledged to "get rid" of IRS rules that prohibited tax-exempt groups like churches from engaging in political advocacy, NPR's Sarah McCammon reported.

"We're doing a giant U-turn", Jeffress said.

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President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that could pave the way for religious institutions to have more power to claim exemptions from health-care law mandates like no co-pay birth control. A look at the law in question, known as the Johnson Amendment.

Leaders of the USA religious left, a rising force of opposition to Trump's hard-line stance on immigration and healthcare, said they were poised to benefit from the move, which lifts the risk of religious groups losing their tax-exempt status if they advocate for particular candidates.

Mississippi College Political Science Professor Glenn Antizzo says the executive order is the president's fulfillment of a promise to conservative groups whose IRS tax exempt status was denied during the Obama Administration.

Several prominent leaders of the religious left said it violated the US separation of church and state. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian organization that heralded Thursday's executive order, called the Johnson Amendment "overly broad" and said it had been used to censor speech.

Critics were bracing for the worst after a leaked version of the bill from January appeared to allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees, among other sweeping provisions.

The news came hours after the measure, which does very little to effectively protect and restore America's first freedom, was signed by President Trump, who was surrounded by religious leaders.

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