White House Issues Executive Order on Religious Freedom; Silent on Federal Contractors

Pres. Trump acted today to begin fulfilling his campaign promises to his evangelical and other religious group supporters.  An Executive Order (?EO?) entitled ?Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty? states the Administration?s positions on a number of issues of significant importance to the President?s religious ?base;? however, the omission of any limitations to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage may disappoint those same voters.

Specifically, the EO instructs government agencies, particularly the IRS, to limit regulatory oversight of political speech from churches and other tax-exempt religious institutions, to the extent legally possible.  The Johnson Amendment, now on the books, permits the IRS to suspend tax-exempt status from religious institutions if they engage in overt political activity.  In fact, there has been virtually no enforcement of this provision.

The remainder of the EO largely offers support, not action.  For example, the EO supports?but takes no affirmative steps to effectuate?the Supreme Court ruling on contraception in health insurance for religious institutions.  Earlier, the High Court ordered the Justice Department to find a resolution in its dispute with religious institutions opposed to complying with the Obamacare provision requiring contraceptive care as part of employer-provided health insurance.

For many, what is not included in the EO is of equal significance.  Despite reports to the contrary, there is no effort to limit or rescind the Executive Order requiring non-discrimination of LGBT applicants and employees by government contractors.  Also, there is no reference of any kind to same-sex marriage. However, what might raise some concerns is Section 4 which directs the Attorney General to issue guidance ?interpreting religious identity protection in Federal law.?