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Religious Liberty Exec Order Draws Divergent Responses

U.S. Christian leaders offered divergent responses to President Trump’s May 4 executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.”

Several U.S. Catholic leaders voiced support for the president’s action, according to the National Catholic Reporter, with many expressing appreciation for it addressing the preventative-care (or HHS) mandate.

“Today’s executive order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” wrote Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We welcome a decision to provide a broad religious exemption to the HHS mandate but will have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.”

The National Association of Evangelicals expressed a similar sentiment in its press release. “We welcome the promise, repeated today, that religious organizations will not be required to provide drugs that may act as abortifacients and services that violate their commitment to protect all human life.”

Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, offered a general affirmation via Twitter: “Grateful for Executive Order’s affirmation of the need to protect religious freedom. Much, much more needed, especially from Congress.”

Other faith leaders expressed concerns about implications of the action.

Calling it “a largely symbolic act,” Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, wrote, “Getting rid of the protection in the law that insulates 501(c)(3) organizations from candidates pressing for endorsements would destroy our congregations and charities from within over disagreements on partisan campaigns.”

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship published on their blog a statement that was first issued on April 4.

It was signed by CBF’s executive coordinator, Suzii Paynter, along with 98 other religious leaders, and expressed opposition to “any effort to weaken or eliminate protections that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.”

Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), expressed similar concerns via Twitter: “The 1st Amendment protects the religious liberties of all. This executive order erodes that protection.”

Key directives in the executive order are found in section 2 (which relates to the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” the core provisions of which are explained here) and section 3 (which relates to a contraceptive mandate that was part of the Affordable Care Act, the core provisions of which are explained here).

The full text of the executive order is available here.