In early February, President Trump told an audience at a religious conference that he wants to “destroy” the Johnson amendment, which protects a crucial aspect of church-state separation in the U.S. Now this Thursday, Trump is slated sign an executive order that will ease the ban on churches and other non-profit groups from taking part in political activity.
The order, which will be signed on the National Day of Prayer, focuses on “religious liberties,” and will also ease restrictions on religious employers who object to birth control. As Reuters points out, the order will not include provisions that allow government agencies and businesses to deny services to gay people as many LGBT advocates feared.
An unnamed official spoke to Reuters and reassured advocates that the order “is not about discrimination,” and that anything illegal under current law “would still be illegal.”
“It directs the IRS to exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson amendment which prohibits religious leaders from speaking about politics and candidate from the pulpit.”
Trump galvanized religious conservatives during his campaign by promising to do away with the amendment, which was signed into law in 1954. According to Jeremy Peters of the New York Times, the law is “one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics.”
Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
Religious conservatives have long pushed for the law to be repealed, saying it restricts their religious freedoms. Many cite the case of the Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor as one example of religious groups being oppressed for the beliefs. The group of nuns faced huge fines for their refusal to pay for contraception under Obamacare.
Speaking of the implications of a repeal last year, Jerry Falwell Jr., the prominent evangelical leader and Trump supporter, said it would “create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech.”
With or without the laws existence, religious leaders have long-politicized the pulpit and will continue to do so. Now with Trump’s new executive order, they’ll feel a little more secure knowing government is on their side.
Featured image via Gage Skidmore