President Trump Should Sign the Comprehensive Executive Order on Religious Liberty—with No Compromises

President Trump is considering a religious freedom Executive Order that provides broad religious freedom protections. However, special interests are seeking to derail, delay, or water down the order. Here’s why we should tell him: “Sign the ENTIRE Religious Freedom Order.”

February 10, 2017

Last week, an executive order was leaked to the media that seeks to provide broad religious exemptions for all Americans. This executive order promotes personal liberty by continuing to preserve religious freedom for individuals, for churches and houses of worship, for schools, for employers and businesses, and for faith-based non-profit organizations.

Yet the leak of the order sparked a protest from special interests uncomfortable with the historic role of faith in wide swaths of American society. As a result, First Liberty Institute, along with other pro-religious freedom organizations, took the lead in informing millions of Americans of the backlash, and urging them to tell President Trump not to let the proposed order be watered down or go unsigned.

As Liberty Watch is posted, the controversy over the order remains unresolved, and First Liberty continues to ask Americans to petition President Trump to sign the entire order.


“As a candidate, President Trump promised to support religious freedom for all Americans. Two specific pieces of legislation he said he would support are the First Amendment Defense Act and the repeal of the Johnson Amendment,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. He elaborated:

“This executive order is very similar to the policy suggested in those two pieces of legislation, as well as fulfilling other promises the President made on religious freedom. By proposing this order, President Trump is simply following up on his campaign promises.”

The First Amendment Defense Act was written after the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage in the Obergefell case. The bill was proposed to ensure that, as Justice Kennedy said in the majority opinion, Americans would still be able to “advocate” for their beliefs about marriage without fear of punishment. The bill, which has 172 cosponsors in the House and 37 cosponsors in the Senate ensures that government employees cannot penalize people of faith for their beliefs on marriage, specifically that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

The Johnson Amendment, passed in 1954, threatens to strip non-profits of their tax-exempt status if they speak on political issues or endorse political candidates. A repeal of the Johnson Amendment would affirm that churches, houses of worship, and religious institutions can address political issues from the pulpit without fear of losing their tax-exempt status.


The proposed order would require specific government agencies to give reasonable accommodations for religious freedom for employees, contractors, and organizations. By contrast, groups of people whose rights were threatened under the Obama Administration would be free to function in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Provisions of the order include:

  • Faith-based child welfare agencies providing adoption and foster care services would be able to exist in accordance with their convictions. Under the new exemption, they would not be punished for their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that children should be placed in homes to be raised by a mother and a father.
  • Employers of faith-based institutions and private religious colleges would be free to hire employees based on their religious doctrines. Religious colleges and universities would be free to teach their students and set institution policies that align with their doctrines.
  • The department of Health and Human Services could not force organizations, businesses, and individuals to purchase health insurance (or to face crippling fines if they did declined) that covers abortive inducing contraceptives that are in conflict with their religious beliefs. This policy would protect employers such as Hobby Lobby and religious non-profits such as Little Sisters of the Poor and Insight for Living, a First Liberty client.
  • No religious organization would lose tax exemption simply because its ordinary religious speech touches topics such as politics, marriage, sexuality, or when life begins.
  • No federal employees, grant recipients, or contractors would suffer adverse action because of what they say outside of their employment, grant or contract. And they would have reasonable accommodations to express their faith at work.
  • Non-profit tax-exempt status

“Through this order, President Trump is expressing a principle most Americans agree upon: the government should never use what people believe as a weapon to attack them or punish them,” Shackelford says. “If Americans agree on anything, it is that people have a right to disagree in freedom and without punishment. I am grateful President Trump is standing by his campaign promises to defend people of all faiths.”


As we publish this article, President Trump is considering this Executive Order, which will provide broad religious freedom protections. However, the special interests working to limit religious freedom are seeking to derail, delay, or water down the order.

Please join First Liberty’s campaign to let President Trump know that you desire him to sign the entire proposed executive order—not a watered down compromise—to protect religious freedom.

This executive order is good public policy. We need to let our voices be heard, telling President Trump that the people support religious freedom. As President Trump promised on the campaign trail and as he continues to promise while in office, religious freedom must be protected.

News and Commentary is brought to you by First Liberty’s team of writers and legal experts.

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