President Donald Trump reaches out to Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House on Thursday. Trump signed an executive order directing the IRS to avoid cracking down on political activity by religious groups.
"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.
Trump's order also asks federal agencies to consider issuing new regulations that the White House says could help religious groups that object to paying for contraception under the Affordable Care Act health law.
As a candidate for president, Donald Trump embraced the mistaken view that the federal government was violating religious freedom by prohibiting churches - and other organizations that received the benefit of a tax exemption - from endorsing candidates for public office. "After careful review of the order's text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process", ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement.
Trump's language stood in contrast to certain steps his administration has taken to bar entry to citizens from some Muslim-majority nations and his campaign trail vows to stop all Muslims from entering the country.
The 1954 Johnson Amendment restricts political activity by nonprofits, and past year on the campaign trail, Trump told a meeting of 100 evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders he would abolish that rule, at least inasmuch as it pertains to religious entities. "We are giving our churches their voices back", he said.
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, suggested the order's provision exempting religiously affiliated companies and other groups from covering preventative care is sex discrimination.
It is likely that the Administration will soon face legal challenges to the executive order.
"We believe that the pulpit should be politics-free", Mclean said.
For example, on Wednesday, the ACLU tweeted, "And if President Trump signs an order that will allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate, we will sue".
Leaders of the US religious left, a rising force of opposition to Trump's hard-line stance on immigration and health care, 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.
Despite Trump's executive order, the law remains on the books, and removing it will require an act of Congress.
"With respect to the Johnson Amendment, at least technically, the legal effect of the order appears to be minimal", he said.
Several religious leaders who supported Trump praised the order as a first step in what would be a lengthy, hard process of reworking a web of regulations that many religious conservatives consider unfair. Some voters think religious organizations do it better economically than the federal government does. An earlier draft leaked in February included a provision allowing government agencies to deny services to LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom.
Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of the evangelical Liberty Counsel, said he was "pleased" with the order, telling NPR that Trump "set forth the general policy" of protecting religious freedom.