On Thursday afternoon, President Trump signed an executive order designed to make it much easier for churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations to participate in political activity, and concerned organizations are already fighting back.
The ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have unveiled their plans for a lawsuit against the Trump admin over the executive order, remarking that it’s a blatant violation of the Constitutional prohibition against government favoritism of one religion over any other.
Under Trump’s executive order, churches could feasibly rise to a level of political prominence not yet seen in the United States.
Andrew Seidel, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s attorney, summed up the situation while speaking to the press as follows:
‘The government is not allowed to favor one particular religion over another or favor religion over non-religion. That’s a violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the Establishment Clause… This will turn every church into a political action committee. They won’t have to file any paperwork with the IRS at all. It’ll be dark money into U.S. politics the likes of which have never been seen before.’
Although churches faced losing their tax exempt status in the past were they to engage in political activity, Trump’s executive order directs the federal government not to go after churches’ tax exempt statuses just for engaging in political activity.
The FFRF sued the IRS in 2014, just a few years ago, over an alleged lack of enforcement of the tax code provision prohibiting churches from engaging in political activity. That provision is known as the Johnson Amendment, and the FFRF eventually dropped the suit.
However, they’re ready to now take it up again, with Seidel explaining that they find themselves in the role of “injured party” and thus have perfectly good standing to do so.
‘We would be the injured party. The way [the EO] appears to be written, churches and religious groups don’t have to follow the rule and secular groups do. We are harmed by not being able to participate in political speech on the same playing field and risk losing our tax exempt status if we do.’
Indeed; under Trump’s latest executive order, normal, non-religious non-profits are still prohibited from engaging in political activity, while churches face no such prohibition.
The ACLU has also promised to take the Trump Administration to court over the measure, posting a series of tweets on the matter.
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 2, 2017
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 4, 2017
The ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony Romero commented: “The actions taken today are a broadside to our country’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state. We will see Trump in court, again.”
The ACLU has already waged a successful court battle against the Trump Administration, being the first organization to get a judge to rule against the first Muslim targeting travel ban.
The order signed Thursday by President Trump also, apparently, allows for individuals across the country to discriminate against LGBT people as much as they please, casting the freedom to discriminate under the guise of “religious freedom.”
Featured Image via Andrew Harrer – Pool/Getty Images.