According to the leaked version of Donald Trump‘s RNC speech tonight, the Republican presidential candidate will include a section about how he plans to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches (and other non-profits) from making political endorsements.
At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical community who have been so good to me and so supportive. You have so much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views.
I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.
Consider how much political influences churches already have on political issues — by opposing marriage equality, abortion, sex education, etc. — and realize that Trump is saying churches have been stifled this whole time. He wants them to have more influence.
And all without paying any taxes.
(Keep in mind that some pastors have already endorsed candidates while preaching — on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, for example — without punishment. The IRS says they’ll pursue these violations, revoking tax exemptions if necessary, but it’s never happened.)
This isn’t just a bad idea because churches would be involved with politics, it would be disastrous for the churches, too. Some of them would likely do nothing but politics if it became legal. What would a pastor’s work week look like if, in addition to meeting with and counseling parishioners, he had to consult with different candidates trying to obtain an endorsement?
Pastors have a choice: Their churches can pay taxes and endorse candidates, or they can have the perks of tax exemption in return for not playing politics. Every non-profit in the country plays by the same rules.
This isn’t a free speech issue. This is a wise application of church/state separation.