When a guy who used to sell steaks at the Sharper Image and has, on multiple occasions, denied saying things he very clearly said on video promises anyone anything, should you believe him? Of course not. Still, plenty so-called "religious liberty" fans were stoked about Trump's signing of an executive order Thursday, a leaked early draft of which teased perks for religiously inclined groups that would have very quickly spawned legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The final product, however, has now earned the distinction of "fake news" by the ACLU. "We thought we'd have to sue Trump today," the non-profit organization said following Trump's signing of the order amid the National Day of Prayer festivities Thursday. "But it turned out the order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome. Trump's assertion that he wished to 'totally destroy' the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of 'fake news.'"
The Johnson Amendment, which takes its name from then-Senator and eventual president Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibits churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations from "directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." Violations, according to the IRS, can theoretically result in the revocation of a church or related group's tax-exempt status.
As noted by Time in a report on Trump's order Thursday, however, the Johnson Amendment is already rarely applied. Still, Trump vowed in February to destroy it. "Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us," Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, the New York Times reported. "That is why 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, who's repeatedly proven himself to be a big fan of publicly lying whenever he feels like it, (thankfully) didn't do that with Thursday's order. As the ACLU explained, the religious freedom hoopla was little more than a "faux sop" for conservatives. In fact, the order's text largely circumvents the sort of language many religious leaders were likely hoping for to ensure their ability to discriminate under the guise of "religious liberty" or "religious freedom" or whatever the hell you want to call it.
The executive order's penchant for vagueness, outlined in great detail by the Hill, may give the illusion of fucking with the Johnson Amendment. However, the distinction between religious leaders' ability to speak on political issues and their ability to speak on candidates, specifically, has apparently been overlooked. "The key sentence is a 97-word monstrosity written for maximum vagueness," the Hill's William Fernholz noted.
Additionally, the order's stance on reproductive health services amounts to kicking the proverbial can down the road, the ACLU said Thursday. "The directive to federal agencies to explore religious-based exceptions to healthcare does cue up a potential future battle, but as of now, the status quo has not changed," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said.
Still, the order will likely serve its intended purpose: the perception of keeping promises. Trump supporters will see headlines like "Trump Signs Religious Freedom Executive Order and Protects God-Fearing 'Mericans" on Facebook while touring their self-regulated social media bubble, share the article without actually reading it, then feel good about their pussy-grabbing messiah keeping his word. But if you bother to scratch beneath the surface, even just a little bit, you'll see an aging former steak salesman doing what he's always done: suckering people.