May 4, 2017 – President Donald Trump’s latest executive order is a direct attack on religious freedom, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“Exploiting the National Day of Prayer to trample religious freedom highlights Trump’s zeal to substitute showmanship for sincerity,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn. “Today, the president pandered to his far-right fundamentalist base, upending protections for houses of worship and allowing religion to be used as an excuse to deny women coverage for contraception and other preventive health care.”

“Far from protecting religious freedom, this executive order guts that principle,” said Lynn. “Religious freedom does not mean the right to ignore laws that protect other people and our democracy.”

The Johnson Amendment

“The Johnson Amendment has protected the integrity of our houses of worship and our elections for more than six decades,” said Lynn. “Allowing churches to endorse political candidates will have a corrosive effect that will undermine their ability to unite their congregations to work for the common good. At the same time, it creates an open invitation for political parties to use churches as a tool to further erode our campaign finance system.”

As recent public opinion polls have demonstrated, the American people, including Republicans, evangelicals and faith leaders, overwhelmingly support keeping the current law. Letters to lawmakers from nearly 100 religious and denominational groups and from 4,500 non-profits show the breadth and depth of this support.

“The American people, including our faith leaders, support the Johnson Amendment,” said Lynn. “This move to undercut its protections is the brainchild of a handful of far-right religious leaders who want to boost their own political power.”

Trump has inaccurately claimed this attack on the Johnson Amendment is needed to protect the free speech rights of houses of worship and clergy. Under current law, however, churches and their leaders already have robust free speech rights. They can weigh in on political issues, legislation and voter referendums; they just can’t endorse or oppose candidates. And in their individual capacity, faith leaders can endorse candidates and even run for office.

Through Project Fair Play, Americans United works to educate the public and houses of worship about the protections offered by the Johnson Amendment.

Women’s Access to Health Care

“Birth control is vital to women’s health and equality,” Lynn said. “Allowing bosses to use religion as an excuse to deny their employees insurance coverage for contraception is discrimination, plain and simple.”

Some for-profit corporations and religiously affiliated institutions challenged the contraception coverage requirement, claiming that it violates their religious freedom, including in the Hobby Lobby and Zubik cases that reached the Supreme Court. The cases involving non-profits are still ongoing and will be impacted by Trump’s order.

Americans United represents students in one of these challenges, brought by the University of Notre Dame. This is the only contraception case in which women whose coverage is at risk are actual parties to the case.

“Americans United fights every day to protect religious freedom for all and we embrace our nation’s rich diversity of faiths and beliefs,” Lynn said. “We will fight any efforts to tamper with this fundamental value, to undermine its protections, or to sanction discrimination or harm to others in the name of religion.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.