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Trump at National Prayer Breakfast: ‘I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment’

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 02/02/17

President Trump delivered remarks (you can watch the video of it above) at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning:

It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, the God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God. Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why 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. I will do that, remember. (APPLAUSE) Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us, and the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways. And I’ve never seen it so much and so openly as since I took the position of president. The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out. OK? That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. (APPLAUSE) Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. We have to tough. It’s time we’re going to be a little tough folks. We’re taking advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore. It’s not going to happen anymore. We have seen unimaginable violence carried out in the name of religion. Acts of wantonness (ph) (inaudible) just minorities. Horrors on a scale that defy description. Terrorism is a fundamental threat to religious freedom. It must be stopped and it will be stopped. It may not be pretty for a little while. It will be stopped.

You can read the full text here.

Regarding the so-called “Johnson Amendment”:

The Johnson Amendment refers to a change in the U.S. tax code made in 1954 which prohibited certain tax-exempt organizations from endorsing and opposing political candidates. It is named for Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, who proposed the bill. Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, the amendment affects nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax exemptions. In recent years the Alliance Defending Freedom has attempted to challenge the Johnson Amendment through the Pulpit Freedom Initiative, which urges church pastors to violate the statute in protest. The ADF contends that the amendment violates First Amendmentrights. Groups engaged in promoting the election or defeat of political candidates may receive tax exempt status under other categories in the tax code. The benefit of 501(c)3 status is that in addition to the organization being tax exempt, donors may also take a tax deduction for their contributions to the organization. Organizations recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code are subject to limits or absolute prohibitions on engaging in political activities and risk loss of tax exempt status if violated.Specifically, they are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities to intervene in elections to public office.

Liberals, meantime, contend the Johnson Amendment is necessary to insure the proper separation of church and state:

What is the problem with political speech from the pulpit? The answer lies in the nature of the tax subsidy that churches and other tax-exempt organizations receive and the government’s decision not to subsidize political speech. Subject to the various contribution limits, people can donate all they want to candidates, political parties, and political action committees, but they cannot deduct those amounts from their tax bills. Allowing deductions would mean that taxpayers would be subsidizing—through the tax code—the political activities of others. Allowing churches (and other tax-exempt organizations) to engage in political activities would create a backdoor way to subsidize political speech. And because it would happen through tax deductions for the donors, wealthier taxpayers in higher brackets would get the biggest subsidies. Churches, charities, and educational institutions are tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, which not only exempts their income from taxation, but it also allows them to receive tax-deductible donations. Organizations that are tax-exempt under other provisions, including politically active organizations, may not receive tax-deductible donations. It is not difficult to imagine what would happen if we suddenly allowed churches to engage in political activity and retain their current tax-exempt status. Political donors in search of a deduction would find willing churches and use them to fund political activity. …Critics of the Johnson Amendment are not entirely wrong when they worry about the government monitoring and regulating religious speech, though in practice the rule is seldom enforced. However, that concern can be easily remedied. To avoid oversight, all churches need to do is give up their right to receive tax-deductible donations.

Ask any pastor what the implications of that last line might be. And then pray that our leaders find a wise compromise to resolve this.

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