President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for churches to participate in politics, seeking to deliver on a campaign pledge to a community that overwhelmingly backed in him in last year’s election.
The order, which Trump unveiled with great fanfare in a Rose Garden ceremony, was cheered by some conservative Christians but seen as a disappointment by others, who said it fell short of the broader changes they wanted as part of a highly anticipated measure on religious liberties.
The order, Trump said, removes the financial threat faced by tax-exempt churches from the Internal Revenue Service when pastors speak out on behalf of political candidates. But some experts said it amounts to a mostly symbolic gesture with little likelihood of changing how the agency polices the issue.
Trump’s order — unveiled on a National Day of Prayer celebrated with religious leaders — also directs his administration to consider developing regulations related to religious objectors to an Obama administration mandate, scaled back by the courts, that required contraception services as part of health plans.
“For too long the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs,” Trump said, later telling those gathered for the event that “you’re now in a position to say what you want to say . . . No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”