'Non Prophet' Group Sues Trump Over Religious Freedom Executive Order

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 05, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Another day, another Trump executive order, another lawsuit seeking an injunction against said order. This time it's the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which describes itself as a "National non prophet nonprofit working to promote the separation of state and church," suing Trump mere hours after he signed his Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.

While the order purports to protect "the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government," critics claim it is an illegal attempt to skirt a largely inconsequential provision of the tax code. All we are waiting on now is the inevitable federal district court order enjoining enforcement of Trump's order. You can read the FFRF's lawsuit requesting that injunction below.

Religious Freedom to Do What?

The initial uproar over the religious freedom order came before it was released, and from those who worried that, like the one enacted in now-VP Mike Pence's state when he was governor of Indiana, the order would be a way for businesses to legally discriminate against LGBT customers. Instead, the order focused on the rarely enforced Johnson Amendment, that prohibits 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, like churches and other religious groups, from "directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."

While going after a little-used tax code provision may seem innocuous when compared to the widespread discrimination many feared, The National Review's David French sees a more catastrophic future for the executive order:

The answer to the Johnson Amendment, however, is to either repeal the statute or overturn it in court. This order does neither. In fact, a lawyer will commit malpractice if he tells a pastor or director of a nonprofit that this order allows a church or nonprofit to use its resources to support or oppose a candidate. Even if the Trump administration chooses not to enforce the law, a later administration can tear up Trump's order and begin vigorous enforcement based on actions undertaken during the Trump administration.

Another EO; Another KO?

The FFRF's lawsuit claims Trump's order violates the Establishment Clause as well as their equal protection and free speech rights, and are asking the court "to enjoin the Defendant [IRS Commissioner John] Koskinen from implementing President Trump's EO compelling selective and preferential non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations." If such an injunction comes from a federal judge in Wisconsin rather than one "sitting on an island in the Pacific," perhaps the Trump administration will be less amazed this time around.

You can see the lawsuit in full, below:

Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Donald Trump by FindLaw on Scribd

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