The chairman of the Federal Election Commission recently reaffirmed that non-profits, including churches and religious leaders, can engage in political speech, endorse candidates and host them on church property.
FEC chair Trey Trainor referred to the executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” signed by President Donald Trump on the National Day of Prayer, May 4, 2017.
Trainor said, “One of the first things he did when he came into office in 2017 was issue an executive order to the Department of the Treasury, telling them that they could no longer enforce that provision of the law and those religious organizations needed to be treated the same as every other organization. The Johnson Amendment is still on the books, but with lack of enforcement authority by the executive agency, it’s a law that’s not going to be enforced.”
The executive order states it could no longer enforce that provision of the law and that religious organizations needed to be treated the same as every other organization, declares that it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty, directs the IRS to exercise maximum enforcement of discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment, and provides regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate.
“All executive departments and agencies shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech,” the order reads. “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 adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”
President Trump specifically mentioned “the imposition of any tax or tax penalty,” as well as “the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies any tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit,” as going against his executive order.
The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and enacted into law in 1954, restricted tax-exempt organizations, including churches and religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office. However, no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for engaging in political speech.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said “We commend President Trump for protecting religious freedom. Pastors and churches should not be muzzled.
“The Johnson Amendment has actually always been unconstitutional, and no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for endorsing candidates that uphold biblical values. Its only purpose was to scare pastors into silence. However, churches cannot cower in fear to a non-existent bully and hide behind their nonprofit status. Elections are spiritual wars that threaten the Judeo-Christian foundation of America and Christians are called to be Lights in the culture,” said Staver.