Donald Trump signed an executive order yesterday to allow tax-exempt churches to participate more actively in politics although Congress would have to act to make the order effective by addressing what is known as the Johnson Amendment.
Trump’s order directs the Internal Revenue Service to “alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment,” the White House said in reference to a 1954 law sponsored by Lyndon Johnson, then a Texas senator.
Under that amendment, the tax code prohibits organizations that enjoy tax-free status from participating in a political campaign or supporting any one candidate for elective office.
The ACLU backed away from bringing a lawsuit against the measure saying the worst provisions of the executive order fell well short of Trump’s promise to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment.
The order, which Trump inked during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, directs the IRS not to take “adverse action” against churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations participating in political activity that stops short of an endorsement of a candidate for office.
But pastors are already free to deliver political speeches, and regularly do. Churches and other tax-exempt organizations are restricted from endorsing or explicitly opposing political candidates under the 1954 Johnson Amendment, but the executive order Trump signed Thursday makes clear that those activities would still not be permitted.
Much ado about very little.