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In-town print pool #1
Lachlan Markay • The Daily Beast
May 4, 2017: 12:31 PM

The president signed his religious liberty executive order surrounded by a dozen leaders of varied faiths in the White House Rose Garden.

"We are giving churches their voices back," he declared of a provision directing the Internal Revenue Service not to prospective tax exemption cases against pastors and churches that engage in political speech and advocacy from the pulpit.

The president called the revocation of tax exemption for churches that engage in political speech "a crippling financial punishment. Very, very unfair."

"This financial threat against the faith community is over," he declared.

Among those on stage for the signing were two nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group that runs nursing homes for the elderly and indigent and the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit seeking relief from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

The executive order provides relief from that mandate to churches and religious groups that decline to include contraceptive coverage in employer-provided insurance plans.

The president, with seeming spontaneity, asked both nuns to stand during the ceremony. He then asked them to join him on stage, where referenced Little Sisters of the Poor's lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services. "You mind if I use your lawyers? I could use some good lawyers too," he joked.

Trump made repeated references to the ceremony's presence in the Rose Garden, each time to applause. "It was looking like you'd never get here folks, but you got here," he remarked at one point.

At 11:10 the press was led into the Rose Garden, where a string quartet serenaded attendees. The event, recognizing the National Day of Prayer in addition to the executive order signing, kicked off with a performance by five-time Grammy award winner Steven Curtis Chapman, who played his "My Redeemer is Faithful and True" and a musical rendition of the Lord's Prayer.

Pastor Paula White of Florida's New Destiny Christian Center introduced Pastor Jack Graham, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, and Rabbi Marvi Hier, president Simon Wiesenthal Center. Each led a prayer.

President Trump and Vice President Pence entered the Rose Garden at approximately 11:35. Pence made brief remarks, describing the president as a "man of faith," then introduced the president.

President Trump reviewed the history of the National Day of Prayer before making remarks on his executive order.

Cabinet members in attendance included Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue.

Former congresswoman Michele Bachmann, evangelist Franklin Graham, and Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed were also spotted in the crowd.

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