The Trump administration on Wednesday night said it would issue an executive order the next day to expand religious freedom, fulfilling a promise to social conservatives who coalesced around Donald Trump during the campaign even though he fell short of saintliness himself. The order will direct the IRS to use the maximum discretion possible to mitigate effects of a 1954 law designed to ban organizations, like churches, from engaging in certain political activity, a senior White House official said on a conference call with reporters. The official added the order will also provide regulatory relief for religious organizations that object to a mandate in the Affordable Care Act to provide contraception coverage to employees.
Trump is expected to sign the order when a bevy of religious figures visit the White House on Thursday for the National Day of Prayer. However, the scope of the order — if signed in the condition the official described — would fall short of what many religious conservatives had hoped for. Many had expected — on the left and right — that the order would offer protections for people and corporations with a religious objection to LGBT people, far more hot button issues.
The White House official said there were not plans for a separate order that addressed LGBT issues. Speculation about what the order would say is based largely off a draft version circulated this past winter. According to leaked preliminary text, the order would block the federal government from retaliating against those who act — or refuse to act — based on their religious objections to marriage, transgender people, abortion, contraception, and sex outside marriage.
Still, the White House hasn’t released text of the final order — and several congressional offices from both sides of the aisle, conservative organizations, and liberal groups all indicated they did not have knowledge of the order’s actual contents. The announcement of the forthcoming order comes after several humiliating setbacks for Trump during his first 100 days: His travel bans were blocked by courts, his attempt to defund sanctuary cities was halted by a federal judge, and his pledge to repeal Obamacare has so far faltered in Congress. But while those issues have been popular topics for Trump’s white, base, Trump has given comparatively little attention to conservative religious wedge issues.
As the administration tries to find firm footing, a religious executive order may throw those constituents a bone. Earlier this year, Trump had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” a law that prohibits charitable organizations from endorsing or opposing in political races. Among other groups, the law applies to churches and religious groups classified by the IRS as a 501.