President Trump signs executive order easing ban on political activity by religious institutions

WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order on religious liberties designed to ease a ban on political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions.

The order also mandates regulatory relief to religious employers that object to contraception, such as Little Sisters of the Poor.

It does not include provisions to allow government agencies and businesses to deny services to gay people in the name of religious freedom, as was feared by some civil liberties and gay rights groups.

President Trump's executive orders

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President Trump's executive orders
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President Trump's executive orders

May 1, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on the Establishment of the American Technology Council

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

April 29, 2017

Presidential Executive Order Addressing Trade Agreement Violations and Abuses

(Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

April 29, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Establishment of Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy

(Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

April 28, 2017

Presidential Executive Order Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy

(Photo by Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images)

April 27, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs

(Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg)

April 26, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Statutory Prohibitions on Federal Control of Education

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

April 26, 2017 

Presidential Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act

(Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

April 25, 2017 

Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

April 21, 2017 

Presidential Executive Order on Identifying and Reducing Tax Regulatory Burdens

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

April 18, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

March 31, 2017

Presidential Executive Order Regarding the Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

March 31, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

March 29, 2017

Presidential Executive Order Establishing the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

March 28, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth

(Photo by Ron Sach-Pool/Getty Images)

March 27, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on the Revocation of Federal Contracting Executive Orders

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

March 13, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

March 6, 2017

Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

February 24, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda

(Photo by Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images)

February 9, 2017

Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

February 9, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

February 9, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

February 9, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety

(Photo by Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images)

February 3, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System

(Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

January 30, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

January 28, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Ethics Commitments By Executive Branch Appointees

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

January 27, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

January 25, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements

(Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Bloomberg)

January 25, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

January 24, 2017

Presidential Executive Order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects

(Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

January 20, 2017

Presidential Executive Order on Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

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The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement it would file a lawsuit challenging Trump's order.

Trump, addressing religious leaders in a signing ceremony at the White House, said: "We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore."

"No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors," he said.

Trump's order directs the Internal Revenue Service to "alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment," the White House said in reference to a 1954 law sponsored by Lyndon Johnson, then a Texas senator who later became president.

SEE ALSO: White House announces Trump's first trip abroad

Under the tax code, organizations that enjoy tax-free status, such as churches, are prohibited from participating in a political campaign or supporting any one candidate for elective office.

This includes a ban on making financial contributions to campaigns and candidates, but the law does allow certain non-partisan political activity such as voter registration or get-out-the-vote drives.

Trump would need Congress to rescind the Johnson Amendment, but he can instruct his administration not to enforce it through executive order. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Susan Heavey and James Dalgleish)

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