American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

Via Religion Clause, leading presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday vowed that one of the first things he would do as President is to take on the IRS regulation preventing tax-exempt churches and other nonprofit organizations from officially endorsing candidates, or otherwise electioneering. The statement came after Trump was praised by Pastor Robert Jeffress during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas.

You can watch the rally here. Jeffress’ statement comes at about the 41:00 mark. Here is a rough transcript of Trump’s subsequent remarks:

I’m gonna give the pastor a little bit of a present because what I say I mean. And I think it’s very important for the Christians in the room. Christianity is under siege. Every year, it gets weaker and weaker and weaker.

And I had a meeting with various ministers and pastors about two months ago. And I’m pretty good at figuring things out. And I sat with them, and some of them said, “we love you; we want to endorse you so badly, but we’re afraid we’re going to lose, if we do that, our tax-exempt status.” And I said “what’s this all about?” . . . 

I am gonna work like hell to get rid of that prohibition, and we are gonna have the strongest Christian lobby, and it’s gonna happen . . .

This took place during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, and it has had a terrible chilling effect. When I said that there has to be a temporary ban on certain people coming into this country, we have no choice .. . and when I said “Muslim,” I was met with furor. If I would have said “Christian,” people would have said oh we couldn’t have done anything about it.

That’s going to end, folks. We’re gonna say “Merry Christmas” now on Christmas. We’re gonna start going to department stores and stores and you’re gonna see big beautiful signs that’s gonna say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holiday.” And we’re gonna have a big big big lotta fun.

Now we’re gonna get rid of that. We’re gonna work very hard. That’s one of the first things I want to do. I want to get rid of that, and politically if we use that power, we’re gonna start going go up up up because we are being decimated. So just remember that. Just remember I said it.

Pastor, it starts here. Do you like that what I just said? He’s happy. That’s the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face.

The longstanding rule against 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations engaging in electioneering protects them from exploitation by political parties and candidates, and it helps avoid messy entanglements. Ministers do not, however, lose their ability to participate in campaigns or endorse candidates as individuals. The rule prohibits them from acting in their official capacity as representatives of tax-exempt organizations.

For more, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s resources on church electioneering.