During a White House event on Thursday commemorating the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed an executive order to “promote religious liberty.” (Screenshot via YouTube)

President Trump signed an executive order early Thursday that would allow religious institutions to expand their participation in American politics. The order, an early draft of which was leaked earlier this year, angered civil rights groups and prompted numerous advocacy groups to threaten immediate legal action.

CNN reports:

The order, which Trump inked during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, directs the IRS to exercise “maximum enforcement discretion” over the Johnson amendment, which prevents churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It also provides “regulatory relief” for organizations that object on religious grounds to a provision in Obamacare that mandates employers provide certain health services, including coverage for contraception.

“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,” Trump proclaimed during his remarks, which were marking the National Day of Prayer. “And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever.” …

In his remarks, Trump said that “pastors, priests and imams” were targeted by the Johnson amendment, and would be freer to engage in political activity under his executive order.

The order, which declares that it is the policy of the Trump administration “to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty,” stops short of offering broad exceptions for groups to deny services based on religious grounds.

Although the full text of the order has not yet been released, Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Jacobs shared a glimpse of the order’s main points on Twitter Wednesday night:

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero responded to the order shortly after Trump signed it, stating:

The actions taken today are a broadside to our country’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state. Whether by executive order or through backroom deals, it’s clear that the Trump administration and Congressional leadership are using religion as a wedge to further divide the country and permit discrimination. We intend to file suit today.

America is a deeply religious country because religious freedom and tolerance of divergent religious views thrive. President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate. It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again.

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen also released a statement in response to the executive order:

This executive order may go down in history as the Citizens United of church/state separation in the context of political spending. We are quickly reviewing the terms of the executive order, which we believe is not legally valid, and plan promptly to sue to block its implementation.

Trump’s action threatens another “Citizens United moment,” with elections subjected to a whole new tsunami of secret and unaccountable money.

This executive order came hours before Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a widely criticized health care provision, the American Health Care Act. Thursday also marks a National Day of Prayer, which Trump celebrated this morning while introducing the executive order.

“No one should be censoring sermons,” Trump announced shortly before signing the order.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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