Trump’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty Was Thankfully Scaled Down

religious liberty executive order signing

Today, President Trump signed an executive order on “religious liberty” — a buzz-phrase that is code for “make everyone comply with my belief system.”  In it, Trump calls for less IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which prevents churches from politicking from the pulpit, not that they’ve been very successful in enforcing it anyway.  Since the law was enacted in 1954, only one organization has lost its tax-exempt status based on it, despite thousands of reported violations.  But now at least the IRS has an excuse not to do their jobs.

Also referenced in the executive order is a religion-based exemption to employer health care plans, paving the way for employers to deny contraception coverage to their employees based on the business owner’s belief system.  Because that seems fair.

Keep in mind though, the executive order is basically a bedazzled suggestion to governing entities.  After all, only Congress can repeal the Johnson Amendment, and he certainly can’t revise the Affordable Care Act on his own.  Hell, he can’t even spell “precedent” on his own.

What wasn’t mentioned in the executive order, but was included in a previously leaked version, is a reference to businesses denying services based on religious affiliation — gay wedding cakes and all that.  We all know Pastor-in-Chief Mike Pence would have loved for that to be included, but I’m guessing it was removed based on reactions from watchdog agencies like the ACLU, who already notified the Twitterverse they were prepared to sue the White House.

It’s not clear yet if this order will end up in court or not, since on its face, it really hasn’t changed anything. It’s just a bunch of bluster and a feather in Trump’s cap — an effort to keep those Evangelicals on his side.  I wouldn’t doubt that it’s also an effort to raise his poll numbers, since he unabashedly cares so much about his personal ratings.

Anyway, the executive order is good news and bad news, depending on how you look at it, but in the end, any government endorsement of religion is unacceptable… you know, because of that pesky Constitution and all.


[Originally published at Secular Voices on May 4, 2017]

Kevin Davis is the Founder and Managing Director of, and the author of Understanding an Atheist: A Practical Guide to Relating to Nonbelievers, a book aimed at improving relationships between the religious and their atheist loved ones.
He’s most recently known for being co-founder and Executive Director for Young Skeptics, an elementary-level after-school program for kids. Young Skeptics was launched in January 2015 as an alternative to the controversial Good News Club, an organization operating in public schools that evangelizes children and spreads fundamentalist Christian doctrine focused on shaming children for their sins.

His writing has been featured or mentioned on CNN, Huffington Post, Salon,, Patheos, and many others.

You can find Kevin on Twitter (@SecularVoices) and Facebook.


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