Another religious-liberty issue that concerns many of the court evangelicals is the clause in the IRS tax code commonly referred to as the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is a part of the code that forbids tax-exempt organizations such as churches from endorsing political candidates. Since 1954, when the Johnson Amendment was added to the code, only one church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for violating it. Trump first learned about the amendment during some of his early meetings with evangelicals in Trump Tower. Since that time he has become fixated on it: he realized that the IRS would not allow evangelical pastors to endorse him or any other candidate without losing their tax-exempt status. Trump promised his evangelical supporters that, if elected, he would bring an end to the Johnson Amendment.
For many evangelicals and their followers, Trump fulfilled that promise on May 4, 2017. In an outdoor ceremony at the White House, with court evangelicals and other religious leaders by his side, Donald Trump issued an executive order on religious liberty. Section 2 of the order included the statement: “In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organizations on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.” The statement was a reference to the Johnson Amendment without explicitly naming it. After he signed the order, Trump told the faith leaders present: “You’re now in a position to say what you want to say…no one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”
Court evangelicals cheered the new order, but in reality it did absolutely nothing to change the Johnson Amendment. The order was little more than a symbolic gesture meant to appease evangelicals and keep their support. What may have been a public relations victory for Trump and the court evangelicals did not amount to anything because the president does not have the authority to change the tax code–that job belongs to Congress. And when Congress did overhaul the tax code in December 2017, the Johnson Amendment was not removed.
Over at The Washington Post, Salvador Rizzo traces Trump’s history with the Johnson Amendment. Here is a taste:
Trump says he got rid of the Johnson Amendment. It’s still on the books.
The president sometimes implies that he got rid of the amendment with an executive order. Nope.
He claims that religious leaders were being silenced before his executive order. Not quite. They were prohibited from supporting or endorsing political candidates in their official capacities, and continue to be barred from doing so as a condition of their tax-exempt status.
This is a campaign promise Trump has not fulfilled. It’s also a false claim worth Four Pinocchios.
Read the entire piece here.