During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to seek the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, a rule that prohibits tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from supporting candidates for public office. The law forbids ministers from endorsing candidates from the pulpit, i.e. in their official capacity as ministers. Trump, however, sometimes seems to believe it prohibits religious leaders from expressing any political beliefs at all and perhaps prohibits them from talking about religion itself. From a speech on Sept. 9:
The Johnson Amendment has blocked our pastors and ministers and others from speaking their minds from their own pulpits. If they want to talk about Christianity, if they want to preach, if they want to talk about politics, they are unable to do so. If they want to do it, they take a tremendous risk, that they lose their tax-exempt status.
Like many Trump positions, his vow to “destroy” the amendment (which would require an act of Congress) seems to be less about policy specifics and more about channeling a vague sense of righteous backlash against liberal big shots. And Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast—at which he also engaged in a snide tangent about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Celebrity Apprentice ratings—Trump vowed to “destroy” the amendment:
It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty.” Jefferson asked, “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.
Of note: As discussed in this Christianity Today article, a 2015 survey by the LifeWay organization found that 79 percent of Americans believe that it’s inappropriate “for pastors to publicly endorse political candidates during a church service.” (On the other hand, only 42 percent said that churches that do endorse candidates should lose their tax-exempt status, which is what the Johnson Amendment requires.)