Written by Don Byrd

This morning, on the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed an Executive Order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” The measure addresses an important protection for houses of worship that Trump has consistently promised to remove, the IRS ban on political campaigning by tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. That regulation is codified into law, so it would take an act of Congress to reverse, but the President today signaled his administration’s opposition to the rule by directing the IRS to use maximum discretion to refrain from enforcing it.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty issued the following statement in response to the President’s Order:

This order appears to be a largely symbolic act, voicing concern for religious liberty but offering nothing to advance it. Worse, it is further evidence that President Trump wants churches to be vehicles for political campaigns. 

Americans think changing the tax law to encourage churches to endorse and oppose political candidates with tax-deductible contributions is a terrible idea. But some politicians and a few interest groups looking to solidify their political power continues to push it to further their agenda. 

The vast majority of congregants and clergy from all religious groups oppose candidate endorsements in their houses of worship. Pastors will continue to speak truth to power and preach on moral issues, no matter how controversial, and they don’t need a change in the tax law to do it. But getting rid of the protection in the law that insulates 501(c)(3) organizations from candidates pressing or endorsements would destroy our congregations and charities from within over disagreements on partisan campaigns.”

This morning, Tyler submitted testimony to a House subcommittee “Hearing on Examining a Church’s Right to Free Speech” and explained why there is no need to change the current law. The BJC has steadfastly opposed the politicization of churches, and earlier this year joined a coalition of 99 diverse faith groups in urging Congress (see the letter here) to oppose any effort to undermine those IRS regulations that protect both the taxpayer and our houses of worship, the so-called Johnson Amendment.