Justice Dept. fights suit over Trump religious liberty order

Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building is pictured. | AP

The Justice Department is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation filed in federal court in Wisconsin in May | Andrew Harnik/AP

The Justice Department is fighting a lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s religious liberty executive order by claiming the directive doesn’t actually do what critics allege: allow churches and other religious groups to take part in political activities most charities cannot.

“The Order does not exempt religious organization from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations,” government lawyers wrote in a court filing Tuesday. “Rather, the Order directs the Government not to take adverse action against religious organizations that it would not take against other organizations in the enforcement of these restrictions.”

The Justice Department is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation filed in federal court in Wisconsin in May, just after Trump signed the executive order. The group alleges that the Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty gives preference to “religion over nonreligion.”

“Among many faults, the EO requires the IRS to selectively and preferentially discontinue enforcement of the electioneering restrictions of the tax code against churches and religious organizations,” the lawsuit said. “President Trump also made clear in his remarks that this EO is only meant to benefit religious groups, and, specifically, churches.”

But Trump and the other defendants argued in the new filing that the organization simply misunderstood the executive order, which was watered down before its signing to remove provisions seen as allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians by religious charities carrying out government programs.

The foundation’s Dan Baker said if the government’s claims about the limited impact of the order are true, the organization would consider the litigation a success and drop the suit.

“It looks like they’re saying that Trump’s executive order really doesn’t do anything,” Baker said, though he still plans to talk with the organization’s legal team before pursuing actions. “We’ve got nine attorneys, and they all have their own opinions — I just heard them in the hallways saying it looks like the executive order doesn’t do anything, which is actually great if that’s true.”

Authors:
Diamond Naga Siu

http://www.politico.com