Trump signs order loosening rules on religious political speech
Trump signs order loosening rules on religious political speech

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order [text, JURIST] Thursday relaxing enforcement of rules prohibiting tax-exempt religious groups from engaging in certain kinds of political speech. An existing federal law called the Johnson Amendment [IRS backgrounder] prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from campaigning for particular candidates. But interpreting what crosses the line between advocating for certain policies, which is allowed, and advocating for certain candidates, which is not, is determined [revenue ruling, PDF] by the IRS. Trump’s order instructs the IRS to interpret the law in a way more permissive to religious organizations. It also instructs regulatory agencies to consider exempting employers who object to the use of contraceptives from parts of a federal law [text, LII] that requires employers to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.

Both issues of religious participation in politics and moral objections to contraceptives have been controversial issues for years. In 2008, a group of pastors challenged the rules limiting their speech following IRS reports of increased illegal political activity [JURIST reports] by religious groups in the 2004 election. in 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations can deny coverage of contraceptives [JURIST report] based on their religious beliefs.