In May of 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order that supposedly weakened the Johnson Amendment. While it didn’t technically prohibit pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit if they wanted to hold on to their non-profit status, Trump’s order told the IRS to back off from enforcing their own rules.
Considering the IRS had been doing that anyway — due to a lack of funding and a likely aversion to picking fights with religious institutions — the executive order didn’t really change the status quo. As far as I can tell, only one church has lost its tax exempt status over the past few decades, and that’s because it placed full-page ads in major newspapers telling people not to vote for Bill Clinton.
But the knowledge that the IRS likely wouldn’t punish non-profits for playing politics gave Liberty University’s president and pool boy enthusiast Jerry Falwell, Jr. the green light he needed to break the rules.
According to POLITICO’s Maggie Severns, that executive order opened the door for Liberty U. to basically become a propaganda tool for the Republican Party.
Trump issued the order in 2017. The following year, under Falwell’s leadership, the university directed more than $3 million to conservative organizations. In 2019, it created a think tank that purchased Facebook ads featuring Trump’s image and the slogan “Pray For Our President,” produced a podcast that amplified Trump’s claims of a stolen election, and recently staged a strategy session for the 2021 elections that featured only Republican politicians.
Falwell said he always listened to the advice of his lawyers and only acted when they said it would be okay. But Falwell, like Trump, had a habit of surrounding himself with people who never told him no. The results speak for themselves: Liberty U. fully functions as a vehicle to elect GOP candidates while still getting all the perks of a non-profit organization.
Even with Falwell now out of the picture, the school hasn’t shut down the comical Falkirk Center or done anything to say it’s stepping away from politics.
If any other non-profit institution with that much money and clout supported Democratic candidates in the same way, Republicans would shut it down immediately. But we live in a country where Republicans are allowed to break the rules while Democrats obey them. It’s asymmetric warfare. And the sort of Christians who support the GOP are either too hypocritical or too cowardly to speak out against their own side.
(Thanks to everyone for the link)