Donald Trump has signed an executive order allowing religious leaders a more active role in American politics on the National Day of Prayer.
Mr Trump said “faith is deeply embedded in the history of our country”. He also called the US a “nation of tolerance...we will never stand for religious discrimination”.
Vice President Mike Pence said the order reinforces the “importance of prayer” in the US and said Mr Trump has an “unshakeable faith in God and the American people”.
Mr Trump’s rhetoric about not standing for religious discrimination, will jar with some given the fact that Mr Trump took a hard line about letting Muslims into the US during his presidential campaign.
The “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” order is meant to protect the tax-free status of politically active churches.
The Johnson Amendment – a law dating back to the 1950s – prevents religious leaders from endorsing or opposing political candidates without risking their tax-exempt status.
The order directs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to “exercise maximum enforcement discretion” when applying the Johnson Amendment.
Mr Trump has advocated for repealing the amendment because he – influenced by the devout Christian Mr Pence - feels that it is a “crippling financial punishment” and restricts the freedom of speech of religious institutions.
“Now [you're] in a position to say what you want to say. I know you'll only say good,” Mr Trump said to an audience of religious leaders he gathered in the White House's Rose Garden for the signing.
“Freedom is not a gift from government, it's a gift from God,” Mr Trump said.
Some argue that the order could help make political campaign contributions essentially tax-deductible because of the small number of financial reporting requirements by non-profit religious institutions.
“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live,” he said, adding that he wants to work with “Muslim allies...to combat extremism.”
The signing ceremony included a performance Steven Curtis Chapman, a Christian music singer.
The executive order did not include any provisions regarding the LGBTQ community as had been expected per an early leaked draft of the order.
However two groups, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Center For Reproductive Rights (CPR), have said they will challenge the order.
The order cites the 2014 Supreme Court case involving the company Hobby Lobby. The craft store chain argued that they did not have to provide birth control coverage to female employees because the corporations' owners were opposed to it on religious grounds. It was the first time the court recognised a for-profit company's claim of religious belief.
CPR is challenging the order on grounds that it also includes a provision that says certain private companies are exempt from the Obamacare mandate that ensures women access to “contraception, breastfeeding support, and well-women care; men's health services are not affected,” CPR said in a statement.
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