Trump Relaxes Enforcement of Ban on Religious Groups' Political Activity
President Donald Trump has loosened the government's enforcement of a rule that bars tax-exempt churches from participating in political activity.
Trump signed an executive order Thursday that gives "maximum enforcement discretion" to the country's tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, in tracking the ban on political activity by religious groups, an edict that already is rarely enforced.
Trump's order also gives "regulatory relief" to conservative religious groups that object to provisions of the national health care reforms advocated by former President Barack Obama that required them to pay for health insurance plans that cover birth control and other measures that they feel go against their religious beliefs.
Trump signed the order on religious liberties as he greeted Christian conservatives at the White House on what was designated as the National Day of Prayer.
Tillerson Asks ASEAN to Minimize Diplomatic Relations with North Korea
The United States is rallying Southeast Asian countries to advance Washington’s approach to address North Korea’s threats and to uphold principles including freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his first meeting with all members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday, asked the bloc to speak in one voice to tackle North Korea’s nuclear and missile proliferation.
“Very specifically, the U.S. is asking countries, including our partners in ASEAN, to take efforts to deny the revenue streams that North Korea has enjoyed around the region, and to take a look at the diplomatic relations to minimize them,” Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, said in a telephone briefing on Thursday. “So that North Korea does not gain benefit from its diplomatic channels for its nuclear and missile aspirations,” Murphy added.
All ASEAN members have diplomatic relations with North Korea. Eight of them host North Korean embassies and five have embassies in Pyongyang.
Washington said there was a shared concern among the Southeast Asian bloc that North Korea’s provocation has threatened the stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific region and around the globe.
Some countries have told the U.S. they “are taking measures and steps, relooking (at) the size of North Korea’s diplomatic presence in individual countries, their activities, their commercial transactions that are conducted under diplomatic cover in the light,” Murphy said.
On the South China Sea, Secretary Tillerson made a particular appeal to his counterparts that all parties involved to “stop militarization, construction and reclamation of land in the South China Sea area” while talks are going on.