America’s National Day of Prayer was an eventful one this year. Not only did House Republicans get their Obamacare repeal bill to the Senate floor, President Trump signed an executive order making it easier for churches to take part in political activity, which includes endorsing/opposing political candidates or raising money for them.
In response, the influential atheist group American Atheists have pledged to file a lawsuit “challenging the unconstitutional preference of houses of worship” over secular nonprofits such as themselves.
At issue is the current law which states churches and other non-profit organizations must abstain organizing in politics or face “maximum enforcement discretion” by the IRS.
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) May 4, 2017
“The purpose of this action is clear,” American Atheists’ National Legal Director Amanda Knief said in a post on their website. “The president is caving to the demands of a small minority of religious extremists who, in fact, already engage in electoral politics. They want the benefits that come with nonprofit status, but don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
“Codifying this sort of special treatment of religious groups is fundamentally at odds with the U.S. Constitution and cannot be allowed to stand. We’ll take this all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Knief added.
So strange that Pres. Trump thinks pastors are being muzzled, have no free speech. Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell, Jr. both endorsed him!
— American Atheists (@AmericanAtheist) May 4, 2017
The activists argue that Trump’s executive order gives special treatment to churches, who are tax-exempt but are permitted to engage in advocacy on issues just as long as it doesn’t violate the Johnson amendment — a fact that contradicts talking points released from the White House this Wednesday that claim religious leaders are “prohibited from speaking about politics and candidates from the pulpit.”
A recent poll showed nearly 75% of Americans oppose allowing religious groups to engage in politicking from the pulpit. Another, conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals in March, showed that almost 90% of evangelical pastors surveyed opposed endorsing candidates from the pulpit. More than 4,500 leaders of religious and secular groups signed a letter opposing the weakening of the Johnson Amendment.
“They already get tax exempt status, tax deductions for their donors, and opaque finances with no disclosure, and now they want the ability to influence our elections,” American Atheists president David Silverman said.
“This would allow billions of dollars in anonymous money to be funneled through churches, turning religions into the new Super PACs.”
Featured image via Gage Skidmore