Friday, May 12, 2017

Trump's EO discriminates against atheists

Last week, we were concerned about the prospect that Trump's Executive Order on "religious liberty" was going to allow discrimination against GLBTQ people.  What Trump finally signed had nothing to do with such issues;  it was about allowing churches to openly advocate for political candidates.

But now the EO has been challenged anyway.   The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin that argues that it would selectively benefit religious organizations in that it allows them to endorse political candidates without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.

They're right.   This is another sop to the religious right.  What the EO does is to weaken the 1954 Johnson amendment that restricts all tax-exempt organizations from campaigning for, or against, particular candidates for public office.

In his Rose Garden signing ceremony, President Trump said this:
   "This executive order directs the IRS not to unfairly target churches and religious organizations for political speech. . . .  No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.  We are giving our churches their voices back."

In its lawsuit, the Freedom From Religion Foundation goes further, claiming that the order not only directs the IRS to leave religious organizations alone, it applies "a more vigorous enforcement standard to secular nonprofits."

Trump did make a campaign promise to evangelical groups -- and it was even written into the GOP platform --  that they would "get rid of the Johnson Amendment."    Trump's comments make it very clear whom they were doing it for:  religious groups.    And it doesn't get rid of the Johnson amendment;  it simply tells them not to go after religious organizations.

Religious conservatives paint themselves as victims, when it fact the Johnson amendment is not about religion;  it's about tax exempt status.   You can't be a tax exempt organization -- including a secular school, an art museum, or a scientific assembly -- and be overtly political for a particular party or candidate.  In effect, Trump's Executive Order, gives religious organizations a political advantage that it does not also give to secular organizations.

Maybe the ACLU will need to reconsider its decision not to sue -- "for now" is what they said.  Because now the law would discriminte against secular, non-profit, tax-exempt groups.   And it does it even more blatantly -- because it violates an actually stated prohibition in the Constitution's Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment.

Stay tuned.    And thanks to Mary Papenfuss  of Huffpost for the reporting I relied on.


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