Trump: People of Faith Will Not Be ‘Bullied or Silenced Anymore’

President signs executive order boosting federal religious-liberty protections

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday primarily aimed at restoring freedom of expression to religious institutions and communities.

“Today my administration is leading by example as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty of the United States of America,” the president said Thursday, speaking in the White House Rose Garden.

“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”

The highly orchestrated ceremony took place during the National Day of Prayer. Nuns in full habit, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and other religious leaders flanked the president during the press conference and the signing.

“Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding, and the soul of our nation,” Trump said.

The executive order “directs the IRS to exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious leaders from speaking about politics and candidates from the pulpit,” according to a one-pager from White House staff. The order also “provides regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventative services mandate, a position supported by the Supreme Court decision [involving] Hobby Lobby.”

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“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,” Trump said Thursday.

On Wednesday evening, Trump met with religious leaders for dinner to discuss the pending action and other policy priorities for the faith community.

Some conservatives and religious-liberty advocates expressed dissatisfaction with the scale of the order.

“President Trump’s executive order provides hope, on this National Day of Prayer, that he will move fully toward fulfilling his promise to protect religious freedom for countless Americans,” said Alliance Defending Freedom president Michael Farris in a statement, “regrettably, this executive order leaves that promise as yet unfulfilled.”

Related: GOP Lawmakers Urge Trump on Conscience Protections

Critics suggested the order was largely symbolic and too vague to compel federal agencies to protect the religious-liberty rights of all Americans.

“As we have explained, though we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended.” Farris continued, “We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion and to ensure that all Americans — no matter where they live or what their occupation is — enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment.”

Related: Three Key Speculations About Trump’s Religious Executive Action

Ahead of the signing ceremony Thursday, Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, also expressed dismay at the scale of the order.

“If the Donald J. Trump EO on religious liberty ends up being what media outlets are currently reporting, then it’ll be woefully inadequate,” Anderson wrote in a Facebook post late Wednesday evening.

The president made repeated promises on the campaign trail to vigorously advocate for religious-liberty protections and to roll back actions taken by his predecessor to limit faith-based organizations’ ability to engage in political speech.

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“The first priority of my administration will be to preserve and protect our religious liberty,” Trump said on the campaign trail in September 2015 at an Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Des Moines, Iowa. “The First Amendment guarantees our right to practice our faith as we see fit, not just during the Holy days, but all the time. Always. Wherever.”

In February, a leaked draft of the executive order circulated in the media. The preliminary version included language rolling back an Obama-era order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers or vendors — even if they cited a religious objection. Progressives and LGBT advocates hammered the draft, and the language was not included in the final order signed by Trump Thursday.

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