WRITTEN BY GEORGE LUJACK:
May 04, 2017
President Trump signed an executive order today, easing the religious liberty and free speech restrictions placed upon 501c3 non-profit churches and other organizations. Trump’s executive order instructs the Internal Revenue Service to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” that endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit, which is currently outlawed by a provision typically referred to as the Johnson Amendment.
The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, is a provision in the U.S. tax code that prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The intention of the Johnson Amendment was to restrict the free speech rights of churches and other religious groups. A 501c3 religious speaker, who endorsed or opposed a political candidate, faced losing his or her 501c3 non-profit tax exempt status, meaning donations made to such religious organizations could not be declared as tax deductible, which could result in a loss of charitable donations that these churches receive and depend upon to sustain themselves. In application and practice, the IRS has been increasingly using the Johnson Amendment, as well as other IRS tax codes, to target conservative Christian churches and ministers.
President Trump also proclaimed May 04, 2017, as a national day of prayer.
Excerpts from President Trump’s May 4th Rose Garden White House speech included:
“Today my administration is leading, by example, as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America. We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.”
“We remember this eternal truth; freedom is not a gift from government, freedom is a gift from God.”
“No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”
“In America, we do not fear people speaking freely from the pulpit, we embrace it. America has a rich tradition of social change beginning in our pews and our pulpits. Perhaps there is no greater example than the historic role of the African-American church as the agent for social progress, spurring our nation to greater justice and equality. We must never infringe on the noble tradition of change from the church and progress from the pew. Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue or any other house of worship. We are giving our churches their voices back.”
“With this executive order, we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty and we are proudly reaffirming America’s leadership role as a nation that protects religious freedom for everyone.”
President Trump evoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was himself a religious leader once targeted by the IRS, as he declared, “Over 60-years ago the IRS went after one of the greatest leaders in history, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.”
Critics charge that while President Trump’s executive order targets the Johnson Amendment, only Congress can formally repeal it.