Baptists Respond to Executive Order on Churches & Politics

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Issued on the National Day of Prayer, the order also asks the IRS to soften its enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the USA tax code that bars churches and tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates.

The order, timed for Thursday's National Day of Prayer, does not include the broad religious liberty provisions leaked in February that could have allowed businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation and other moral objections.

Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders as well as a prominent US rabbi joined Trump when he signed the order instructing the Internal Revenue Service to "alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment", the 1954 law prohibiting organizations that have tax-free status, including churches, from participating in political campaigns or supporting any particular candidate.

"President Trump's executive order did not ease the current restrictions on political activity by religious organizations", said Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.

He added: 'Now [you're] in a position to say what you want to say. As we said yesterday the order is a symbolically important rebuke of the last eight years, but it's low on substantive change. Even so, some religious leaders have argued the rule has a chilling effect on free speech, and have advocated for years for repeal. The policy allows a wide range of advocacy on political issues, but in the case of houses of worship, it bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit. Groups can't hand out campaign contributions. The Heritage Foundation's Ryan Anderson characterized the order as "woefully inadequate", while Princeton professor Robert George said it amounted to a victory for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, senior administration officials with socially liberal views.

Trump signed the executive order on the National Day of Prayer, and after he met with Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal DiNardo.

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A year ago he branded then United States president Barack Obama a "son of a whore" for criticizing the drug war. And he often spoke warmly of President Vladimir Putin of Russia-until differences over Syria erupted.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Many evangelical Christians have long wanted religious people to have more freedom to act on their religious beliefs, more freedom, for example, to reject same-sex unions and transgender identities.

The nonpartisan Washington, D.C. -based Interfaith Alliance also said Trump was appeasing the religious right, noting that: "Faith leaders are already free to address politics, they just can't use tax-exempt dollars for partisan politics".

The House Oversight and Government Reform committee convened Thursday to discuss the Johnson amendment, with several Republicans expressing their support for the executive order. A 2016 LifeWay poll found that only 19 percent of Americans agree with the statement "it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse political candidates during a church service", and a 2013 Pew Research Center survey that found two-thirds of Americans think clergy should not endorse political candidates. "We will be taking action in short order to follow the President's instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees", Price said in a brief statement.

"President Trump's prior assertion that he wished to "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of 'fake news, '" he added. What do you do if the pastor endorses one candidate and then someone else wants someone else or a member of the congregation asks?

A change to the tax law to actually eradicate the Johnson Amendment would require action by Congress. During his signing remarks, Trump inaccurately claimed the regulation punishes a church whose leader "speaks about issues of public or political importance". I know you'll only say good'.