For the first time since his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump publicly reiterated his intent to dismantle the Johnson Amendment, a federal law that prohibits houses of worship and other non-profits from getting involved in partisan electoral politics.
“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,” Trump vowed on Feb. 2. “I will do that. Remember.”
His remarks came during the annual National Prayer Breakfast, a gathering attended by members of Congress and sponsored by the evangelical Fellowship Foundation.
The amendment to the tax code, named after then-senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who supported the change in 1954, bars non-profit organizations from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates. Contrary to Trump’s claim, religious leaders may, as private citizens, speak freely about politics. They just can’t use the tax-exempt resources of their non-profits to do it.
Repealing the Johnson Amendment was a promise Trump made repeatedly during the presidential campaign, and the proposal was included in the Republican Party platform. Although the issue is popular with the Religious Right, polls have shown that most churchgoers aren’t interested in hearing partisan politics preached from the pulpit.
Americans United has long campaigned to keep the Johnson Amendment intact. More than 20 years ago, AU launched Project Fair Play to educate faith leaders and citizens about the law, and the group has reported egregious violations to the Internal Revenue Service.
Trump’s comments were widely reported after the breakfast, and multiple media organizations reached out to AU for a response. Communications Director Rob Boston was interviewed by CNN, Fox News Radio and the British newspaper The Independent, among several other outlets.
The news agency Reuters quoted AU’s executive director, Barry W. Lynn: “President Donald Trump and his allies in the religious right seek to turn America’s houses of worship into miniature political action committees. It would also lead some houses of worship to focus on supporting candidates in exchange for financial and other aid. That would be a disaster for both churches and politics in America.”
AU has vowed to oppose Trump’s effort to repeal the Johnson Amendment. To learn more, visit projectfairplay.org.