New executive faith order another blow to Constitution


A just-issued executive order is one more slap in the face of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The White House is hyping this faith-based order, which it is calling the “Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.” Short on substance, President Trump appears to have used his business strategy here. Basically, he has rebranded six executive orders other presidents signed and has subbed in new names for existing programs and offices (section 2).

The aspect of the order with the most immediate impact (section 3) “creates the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative within the Executive Office of the President.” Trump appears to be ending one office — the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives — and starting a new one — the Faith and Opportunity Initiative — that does basically the same thing. Trump will appoint a new person to lead the office and a panel of “experts” to go along with it, giving the president the chance to reward his faithful base with a cushy government post. That post will have some power too, because, according to the press release, “Executive departments and agencies that lack a Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiative shall designate a Liaison for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives as a point of contact to coordinate with the advisor in carrying out this order.”

Much of the order is a word salad of evangelical dog whistles regarding “religious liberty.”

According to the White House’s own press release, the order authorizes the initiative to recommend policy affecting “faith-based and community programs,” “reduce the burdens on the exercise of free religion,” and warn Trump of “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under the law.”

The pandering release, which brags “this is the president’s third public event marking the importance of prayer,” notes, “One Nation Under God: President Trump has publicly stood with people of faith and with those who advocate for the sanctity of life.” The White House quotes Trump ignoring the nation’s secular Constitution and the 24 percent of adult Americans who are nonreligious and instead insisting: “America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthen by the power of prayer.”

During his speech in the Rose Garden promoting the National Day of Prayer and touting this order, Trump said, “Last year on this day, I took executive action to prevent the Johnson Amendment — a disaster — from interfering with our First Amendment rights. I was so proud of that.”

This is not true. Trump’s attorneys admitted in court in response to an FFRF lawsuit, “The order does not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations.” Trump failed to fulfill his promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” It is despicable that the president continues to repeat this “Big Lie,” especially in an important election year. Trump’s lie gives his church base a presidential green light to flout the federal law to use tax-exempt pulpits and coffers to endorse political candidates.

The 2017 order was toothless about the Johnson Amendment, as his attorneys confessed. We hope the same holds true of today’s order. But FFRF will be watching this very closely and, if necessary, it’s willing to take Trump to court over his executive order. Again.

Photo by Evan Al-Amin via Shutterstock

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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