Trump administration has draft of Indiana-like RFRA executive order

Posted at 2:12 PM, Feb 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 14:03:10-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- A drafted executive order obtained by ABC News looks an awful lot like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that now-Vice President Mike Pence signed in Indiana two years ago, which prompted national and local outrage and ultimately a "fix" to satisfy its many critics.

The religious freedom executive order, titled as a draft as "Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom," may never be signed by Trump, as it is still in draft.

But if signed, it would exempt "all persons and religious organizations" from providing health care options like contraceptive coverage, and expand the definition of religious organization to include "closely held for-profit corporations, operated for a religious purpose, even if its purpose is not exclusively religious."

It would also repeal parts of the Johnson amendment, which limits tax-exempt organizations (like churches) to endorse or oppose a political candidate.

Trump said he wants to “destroy” the Johnson amendment in a speech last week.

JOHNSON AMENDMENT | President Trump Wants To Kill The Johnson Amendment. But What Is It?

Proponents of the law say new policies have forced them to provide services that conflict with their religious beliefs.

The exact replications of such an executive order are unknown, but if Indiana is a case study for a possible religious freedom executive order, expect plenty of backlash.

The Indiana law was billed by supporters as a safeguard against businesses being forced to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds. But opponents said it gave businesses a "license to discriminate." 

PREVIOUS | Pence signs Religious Freedom bill into law | Media, public not invited to private signing ceremony for religious freedom bill

RFRA was immediately met with criticism from other lawmakers, business leaders and citizens.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said his organization, which is based in Indianapolis, was “deeply disturbed” by the bill. Angie’s List withdrew a proposal for an $18 million expansion, citing opposition to RFRA. Gen Con, Indianapolis’ largest convention, threatened to leave the city if it became law.

MORE | Gen Con asks Gov. Pence to reject religious freedom bill | Angie's List pulls $18M expansion proposal, cites RFRA concerns | NCAA Pres.: We're 'deeply disturbed' by RFRA | Lilly, Cummins, others: RFRA bad for business

The Indianapolis City-County Council and Mayor Greg Ballard joined in their opposition to RFRA.

READ: Mayor Ballard comes out against SB101 | Indianapolis City-County Council approves anti-RFRA resolution

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, claims the Trump administration's draft executive order would try to do the same thing at a much bigger scale.

"It reads like a wish list from some of the most radical anti-equality activists," Griffin said in a statement. "If true, it seems this White House is poised to wildly expand anti-LGBTQ discrimination across all facets of the government — even if he does maintain the Obama [executive order from 2014]. If Donald Trump goes through with even a fraction of this order, he'll reveal himself as a true enemy to LGBTQ people."

Supporters of the Indiana law, like Pence, said it is similar to the federal one passed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. But U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) disagrees.

“The Indiana RFRA in no way resembles the intent or application of the federal RFRA,” Schumer said at the time. “As the signer of the bill, Governor Pence should put a stop to it immediately.”

PREVIOUS | Sponsor of 1993 RFRA says stop comparing laws

The law was more than just a PR issue. RFRA may have cost the state as much as $60 million, according to a study by Visit Indy.  

The backlash came to a head just a few weeks after it was signed into law. 

The RFRA “fix” made it clear that a business can't use the law to refuse to provide services or goods to the public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.

“Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation. However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward," Pence said when he signed the changes to the law. “In the midst of this furious debate, I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and compassion, and I have felt the prayers of people across this state and across this nation. For that I will be forever grateful."

Even after the "fix," the law has continued to be controversial in its application. The “First Church of Cannabis” was formed shortly after the law was passed. Many believed the church would use RFRA as a defense against any legal ramifications.

One man tried using RFRA to say paying taxes violates his religion, while a woman used RFRA as a defense when charged with child abuse. The latter case led to Indianapolis prosecutor Terry Curry to express his concern with the law.

“We’ve been frustrated with the RFRA law since it was enacted because we advised at the time and told legislators if it didn’t exempt criminal code, people would serve it as a defense for criminal conduct,” Curry said.

READ MORE: Paperwork filed with Indiana Secretary of State for First Church of Cannabis | Appeals court says Indianapolis man may not use RFRA defense in tax evasion case | Burmese woman cites RFRA as to why she beats her child

Some social conservatives across the country saw the changes to RFRA as a betrayal of Pence’s values, Politico reported.

“I’d never thought that of Mike, but when it came down to it, he crumbled under pressure. That, for many evangelical conservatives, has been something that is a red flag,” South Carolina pastor Mike Gonzalez said.

Trump has been quick to sign executive orders since the beginning of his tenure as President, but it's unclear when, if ever, this one would be put into effect, especially after the hold up on Trump's immigration ban executive order.

Read the full ABC News report here.