SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump addressed several key topics that concern communities of faith during a Thursday morning speech in honor of the National Day of Prayer.
In his speech, Trump highlighted three of the religious freedom policies on which his administration has focused: the Johnson Amendment, which limits the political activity of nonprofits, including churches; the rights of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies; and health care conscience rights for religious members of the medical community.
In attendance for the president's speech at the White House Rose Garden were faith leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including Sam Brownback, America’s religious freedom ambassador; Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, a survivor of the Saturday shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, whom Trump brought up to the podium to give a speech.
Much of the president's speech was dedicated to concerns of people of faith. The president trumpeted accomplishments for religious freedom in three areas. Below is an analysis and fact check of what the president said.
1. The Johnson Amendment
What Trump said: “One of the things I’m most proud of is the Johnson Amendment. You can now speak your mind, and speak it freely. I said I was going to do that. … They took away your voice, politically, and those are the people I want to listen to, politically, but you weren’t allowed to speak. You would lose your tax-exempt status. That’s not happening anymore. We got rid of the Johnson Amendment. That’s a big thing.”
Fact check: As the Deseret News previously reported, Trump has long promised to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a tax code provision from the 1950s that limits the political action of tax-exempt nonprofits, including churches.
“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2017.
Several months later, on the National Day of Prayer in May 2017, Trump signed an executive order to give faith-based organizations more freedom to endorse political candidates and talk about their political beliefs. The executive order also curtailed federal agencies from penalizing religious organizations that don’t want to include birth control in their health care coverage.
However, the executive order didn’t actually get rid of the Johnson Amendment. Instead, the order merely instructed federal agencies to overlook violations of the amendment by religious organizations, which was already common practice. According to The New York Times, only one church so far has lost its tax-exempt status for violating the terms of the amendment.
Bottom line: Trump did not get rid of the Johnson Amendment. To overturn the amendment, legislation would need to be passed by Congress.
2. The rights of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies
What Trump said: “I am committing to you today that my administration will preserve the central role of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to care for vulnerable children while following their deeply held beliefs. Those are words you probably thought you’d never hear."
Fact check: As the Deseret News previously reported, the Trump administration has expressed support for the right of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to receive government funding even if they won't serve LGBTQ or non-Christian couples.
In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a nondiscrimination law waiver to one such organization, Miracle Hill Ministries in South Carolina, explaining that its right to operate and receive government funding was protected under federal religious freedom law.
However, other faith-based adoption and foster care agencies who would not serve LGBTQ couples for religious reasons have been forced to close elsewhere, including in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois, after losing access to funding.
Bottom line: The rights of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies are still hotly contested, and there are several ongoing lawsuits challenging rulings that have extended protections to these agencies.
3. Health care conscience rights
What Trump said: “Today, we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities. They’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. It happened today.”
Fact check: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, conscience rights “apply to health care providers who refuse to perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds.”
Those health care services may include abortion, sterilization and procedures that result in sterilization, assisted suicide, and surgeries related to gender dysphoria.45 comments on this story
Although there were already a series of federal statutes in place protecting the conscience rights of health care providers, the Trump administration Thursday finalized a new rule, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care,” that strengthens those protections.
According to BuzzFeed News, the rule was first proposed in January 2018, and the Trump administration set up a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Department of Health and Human Services to handle complaints that would come in as a result of the rule.
Bottom line: The new rule will go into effect in 60 days and will apply to health care institutions that receive federal funding, according to BuzzFeed News.