Trump’s thumbs up to churches

Today Donald Trump signed a new executive order that does three things:

  1. It uses the Executive Branch of the government to shield religious organizations from the necessity to comply with Federal law when the law causes “undue interference.”

  2. It tells the Secretary of the Treasury to stop penalizing any person, “house of worship,” or other religious organization when they speak about, “…moral or political issues from a religious perspective….”  And it specifically says that penalties, or, “adverse action” means that no tax or tax penalties can be applied to 501(c)(3) nonprofits.  It makes it clear that the Secretary of the Treasury or those offices he manages can’t punish such speech by, “tax deduction, exemption, credit or benefit.”  This would seem to indicate that Federal grants can’t be withheld either.  

    As an aside, the Secretary of the Treasury is part of Trump’s cabinet and is also the boss of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue – who manages the Internal Revenue Service.

  3. It provides more protections to businesses with religious objections to the ACA’s mandate to provide coverage for contraceptives.  “More” protections, because even under Obama, religious objections have made this mandate little more than a strong suggestion.
Churches, religious organizations, Mosques, Satan worshippers, this thumb’s for YOU!

In a nutshell, churches no longer have to stay quiet about who they endorse.  As a church, they are also not required to show where they get their money.  Therefore, it seems lawful that the Pope in Rome could send a couple of billion dollars to the Catholic Church here in America, where it could be used to dramatically influence the next election.  

And the local church wouldn’t have to tell anyone where they got all that money.  Neither would the local Mosque.  How much money could Saudi Arabia funnel into our election systems?

The wording also (perhaps accidentally) seems to loosen restrictions on other sorts of non-religious 501(C)(3) organizations – most especially for secular (atheist) organizations.  This might be another reason why a majority of Americans surveyed believe this to be a BAD IDEA, and overwhelmingly reject the entanglement of religion and government. (2008 & 2016 surveys by Lifeway.)

Creationist organizations have argued for decades that the ruling  Torcaso v. Watkins (Supreme Court, 1961) means that Secular Humanism is a religion.  And Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia (4th Court of Appeals, Washington DC) said that any non-theistic organization that has regular services and otherwise functions somewhat like a church must be allowed the same sort of tax-exempt status as a church.  In the case, American Humanist Association v. United States (9th District court, Oregon 2014) Federal Judge Ancer L. Haggerty ruled that Secular Humanism must be treated as a religion, “…for establishment clause purposes,”

The First Amendment of the United States says that the government can’t make a law that establishes a religion, or prohibits the free exercise of religion.  The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment was used by Justice Haggerty to apply the First Amendment to non-religion.  In other words, in America, religious beliefs and practices are protected, even if those include a non-belief in deities, and include regular secular services.

Sunday Assembly at Conway Hall
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

And now Trump has thrown a spanner into the works.

Trump’s order would seem to allow atheist nonreligious groups like Sunday Assembly to – under the same rules as a church – acquire money and use that to endorse potential candidates.  If Trump’s executive order allows electioneering by religious nonprofit organizations that are NOT churches, then the 14th Amendment might be used to extend this to ALL 501(c)(3) organizations.

After all, it is only fair that the government treat ALL Americans equally.

The Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics is very interested to see how this might affect secular individuals and organizations.

For example, several CVAAS members are ordained ministers.  In California, all it takes a few dollars and 15 minutes to become ordained.  And as John Oliver showed us, it is so easy to start a church.  Much easier than forming a nonprofit organization.  

Sunday Assembly isn’t the only way to go.  Religious people have formed many different types of nonprofit organization.  With the Constitution on the side of atheism, atheists and other secular groups should be able to have the same advantages.

If you wish to become involved, please check out those secular organizations that legally lobby our government.  The Secular Coalition for America is one of them.

Author: President

One day Mark wanted to talk to other atheists in Fresno. So he set up a atheist event. Five people arrived at the very first event in late 2002. Everything that followed was a result of that.