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Trump Has Promised to 'Destroy' a Law That Bans Churches & Nonprofits From Participating in Political Campaigns

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While speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Donald Trump vowed to remove the limits on political speech by tax-exempt religious organizations, saying, "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution."

The Johnson Amendment, which has been in place since 1954, has not been seen as particularly controversial. Nor has it been a major issue for the religious right. However, according to The Washington Post, Trump first stated his opposition to the amendment while speaking to Christian religious leaders last June, saying “I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity—and other religions—is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it.”

Officially removing the amendment from the tax code would require congressional approval. And doing so would allow churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations to not only speak freely on political subjects, but also to endorse campaigns and support them financially without worrying about losing their tax-exempt status. Not that this is a huge concern at the moment—the IRS rarely enforces the Johnson Amendment, so the action would be largely symbolic on Trump’s part.

Trump’s announcement comes as religious groups in the United States are grappling with his executive order limiting immigration and refugee resettlement. The Huffington Post reported that, ahead of the Prayer Breakfast, more than 800 Christian leaders signed a letter to the president, reminding him that “the Gospel is not about prosperity, but Good News for the poor. In them, we encounter Christ” and to “protect the downtrodden” in accordance with Christian values. The repeal of the Johnson Amendment would be a victory for the religious right and is likely to be a move by Trump to quell some of their uneasiness about his other policies.

Not all groups are enthusiastic about the move, though. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty released a statement, according to the Post, saying, “Politicizing churches does them no favors. The promised repeal is an attack on the integrity of both our charitable organizations and campaign finance system. Inviting churches to intervene in campaigns with tax-deductible offerings would fundamentally change our houses of worship. It would usher our partisan divisions into the pews and harm the church’s ability to provide refuge.”

Never one to stay entirely on message, Trump rounded out his speech at the Prayer Breakfast with some assurances about the state of American foreign policy, a reminder that terrorism is a threat to religious liberty, and a jab at former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, low ratings on the Celebrity Apprentice.


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