QUESTION #1: Please comment on the executive order from President Trump regarding religious liberty for 501(c)(3)’s and help us understand how this benefits churches and religious organizations.
“I think the first thing we should recognize is this might be the best news to come out of the White House in about eight years. Let us be thankful that we now have a White House that is at least putting down in black and white ink that there’s a commitment to religious liberty. Not only a commitment but that there is, that now official policy of the White House administration, religious liberty will be our national priority. Does this EO, this executive order do everything? No, and nor should it frankly.
What this executive order does is very simply lay down a foundation at the administrative level, at the executive department to say, “Hey look, the policy of this administration will be to honor and respect religious liberty throughout this country, starting with this cabinet here.” I would very much view this as a foundation upon which many future victories will be fought and I believe won. That it sends a very clear signal that the first amendment and the laws that protect religious liberty that Congress has duly passed will be enforced and executed by this administration and those that have been used in the past to punish people of faith much like the Little Sisters of the Poor, which, if you watch the ceremony, were brought up on stage yesterday. They ought not to fear that this administration will force them into a position to violate their conscience or obey their government.
I think we ought to be thankful first off that the administration has seen fit to make religious liberty once again our national priority. If things had gone differently in November, perhaps we’d be falling off a cliff right now, but instead we’ve got the foundations set to be able to make many future gains on the issue of religious liberty in this country…
(Regarding the IRS)…the administration is saying there are a lot of things that the IRS can and should do but one of them that they should never do is telling pastors what they should or should not say from the pulpit. So, it’s reorienting the IRS which has some really significant issues in the last eight years or so of targeting religious organizations and religious speech and it’s reminding them that whether or not pastors choose to talk about political issues from the pulpit, that’s a matter for their deacons or their elders or their boards to decide. It’s not a decision for the IRS to demand.
This is just frankly consistent with what we’ve seen throughout our country’s history which is unique in the world history quite frankly, that we now have a government that says we’re going to be neutral to religion. We’re not going to be hostile to it. We’ve had a lot of hostility in the last eight or so years. I think what this executive order does is begin to turn that back around, to say let’s remind ourselves what the first amendment says, that we’re to be neutral towards the free exercise of religion in all parts of government and number two let’s look at all the other Congressionally passed statutes that are out there that further protect religious liberty and further restrain government’s action against the free exercise of religion. That’s what I think section two is intended to communicate, especially to those who would occupy the pulpit…
…What you see here is a government or a president that is committed to allowing agencies to do their work but doing it within the rubric of what Congress has authorized them to do. It’s not the president’s job to overturn a duly enacted law of Congress, right? That’s up to Congress and I think we’ve seen them, even yesterday taking some action related to specifically the Obamacare and underneath of that the HHS regulations. That may in fact obviate the need for any kind of action by the executive eventually. We’ll have to wait and see.
But what I do think has happened immediately here is that the president has rightly informed his cabinet, and not just HHS but all the cabinet but specifically in this section, on to Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Service Department there to consider using the authority granted under Obamacare to reenact regulations that would alleviate the burden placed upon the free exercise of religion, first by groups like Hobby Lobby. That’s kind of been settled by the Supreme Court but most pressing and where I think is most immediate, ministries like Little Sisters of the Poor or for instance in our clients, Chuck Swindoll’s ministry.
We have a variety of retirement communities that have been litigating this issue for the last three years and are waiting for some form of relief of HHS under the previous administration who have refused to engage in good faith negotiations frankly on the issue. So, this is the beginning again of a way to say, look our government respects, our president respects the legislative role. That they’ve passed a law that is enacted and until that is removed by Congress and duly enforced by the president, until that point happens, we’re going to work within that rubric. Tom Price, your job is to now look at those regulations and see if something needs to change there.”
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