President Trump on Thursday said he would direct the Internal Revenue Service to relax enforcement of rules barring tax-exempt churches from participating in politics as part of a much-anticipated executive order on religious liberties.
The order — which Trump formally unveiled in a Rose Garden ceremony with religious leaders — also offers unspecified “regulatory relief” for religious objectors to an Obama administration mandate, already scaled back by the courts, that required contraception services as part of health plans, the officials said.
“For too long the federal government has used the state as a weapon against people of faith,” Trump said, later telling those gathered for the event that “you’re now in a position to say what you want to say … No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”
But the sweep of the order — unveiled on a National Day of Prayer — was significantly narrower than a February draft, which had alarmed civil libertarians, gay rights and other liberal advocacy groups and prompted threats of lawsuits.
Among other things, that version included a controversial provision that could have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees or single mothers on the basis of faith.
The order released Thursday instead included a blanket statement that “it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.”