During the National Day of Prayer service outside the White House this morning, Donald Trump bragged about how he repealed the Johnson Amendment, allowing pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit without putting their churches’ tax-exempt statuses in jeopardy.
Just one problem: He never actually did that.
One of the things I’m most proud of is the Johnson Amendment. You can now speak your mind and speak it freely. I said I was going to do that. I told Paula White, who I want to thank so much for everything she’s done. Paula. That was one of the things I said. They took away your voice, politically. And these are the people I want to listen to, politically. And you weren’t allowed to speak. They would lose their tax-exempt status. That’s not happening anymore. So we got rid of the Johnson Amendment. It’s a big thing.
I can’t decide if evangelicals believe the lie or if they’re just humoring him with their applause at this point, but Trump is boasting about something he hasn’t achieved. He’s hurt the Johnson Amendment’s enforcement, no doubt, but it’s still technically in effect.
Remember: Churches, like other non-profits, are already allowed to discuss political issues without a problem. Pastors can condemn marriage equality, treat women as second-class citizens, and pretend science is fake all they want. But as a condition of their tax-exemption, they’re not allowed to directly tell people how to vote (even if they can strongly imply it all they want).
Soon after Trump took office, he signed an executive order claiming to repeal the rule… but it had no teeth. It was more of a performance than anything substantive. Since then, Republicans have attempted to do the job legislatively by putting the repeal into various spending bills… to no avail.
In March of 2018, they tried to insert the repeal in an omnibus spending bill. But when the $1.3 trillion bill was finally released, the Johnson Amendment repeal wasn’t included. (More specifically, there was no language prohibiting the IRS from using its time and money to go after churches that violated the rule by telling the congregation who to vote for.) Republicans tried again last July with an appropriations bill… and it failed again.
Now, with a Democratic House, it’s not going to happen. And it seems like Trump has given up trying.
So now he’s just doing what he always does: Insisting he’s won while hoping no one looks into the details.