Report: Trump to sign executive order similar to Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Posted at 10:17 PM, May 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-03 19:02:02-04

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday that mirrors the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a highly-controversial law signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he served as Indiana governor, according to Politico.

An ABC-obtained version of a document similar to the one expected to be signed, said the order 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 prohibits tax-exempt organizations (like churches) from endorsing or opposing a political candidate.

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According to Politico, two White House senior administration officials confirmed Trump’s plan to sign the Religious Liberty Executive Order. Faith leaders are already expected to be in attendance at the White House to celebrate National Day of Prayer on Thursday.

Indiana’s RFRA, that acted as a safeguard against businesses being forced to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds, was signed by then-Governor Pence in 2015 during a private ceremony as he was surrounded by members of Indiana’s religious community. No media was invited to the event.

Those in opposition to the bill believed it was a licensed way to discriminate.

Hoosiers reacted strongly once RFRA was signed, writing statements on Twitter like, “I’m embarrassed to live in Indiana” and “Congratulations @GovPenceIN , you have successfully turned back the clock 50 years.”

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Although Pence’s sign off on RFRA in 2015 wasn’t positive, Trump’s approval of the federal act would give the vice president what he sought after two years ago, but on a national scale.

Despite the political win, if Trump signs the order, backlash could occur if the emotions of Hoosiers rub off on other states.

In 2015, nine of Indiana largest employers, including Emmis Communications, Eli Lilly & Co, Indiana University Health, and others, said RFRA was bad for business. Several companies reduced their investment in the state and wrote letters to the GOP asking for immediate action on the law.

Several of the state’s largest conventions threatened to leave Indiana due to the signing of RFRA.

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Near the end of March in 2015, then Gov. Pence agreed to adjust the language in RFRA, but the signing’s controversy lingered over the state.

One of the prominent changes included the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the law's language. It stated the law cannot discriminate against anyone. This marked the first time such specific language had been included in any Indiana state law.

"Hoosier hospitality had to be restored. Indiana does not discriminate against anyone: gay, straight, lesbian, black, white, religious, non-religious. RFRA was considered an exclusion of the LGBT community and nothing could be further from the truth," said House Speaker Brian Bosma shortly after the change agreement. "We welcome everyone, we discriminate against no one. Many of us have family members who are gay. We never intended for this law to discriminate." 

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Despite the changes, Visit Indy officials said Indiana lost about $60 million in revenue as conventions pulled their events from the state.