On Thursday morning, Donald Trump used the National Prayer Breakfast to reiterate his intention to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prevents churches and other tax-exempt nonprofit organizations from engaging in direct electoral politics with charitable donations. People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery released this statement:
“Trump and his Religious Right allies argue that the Johnson Amendment restricts the ability of religious leaders to speak out on the issues of the day, a ridiculous assertion. How can anyone look at our political scene and believe religious voices have been muzzled? Free speech and religious freedom are alive and well in America.
“Donald Trump’s Religious Right backers made a huge effort to get him elected. Now he wants to pay them back by letting them turn their churches into political machines with tax-exempt charitable dollars. It’s a terrible idea, a recipe for even more toxic mixing of religion and politics.”
During his campaign, Trump tried to firm up his support among Religious Right leaders by pledging to do away with the Johnson Amendment, saying it would make them more politically powerful. That pledge was part of an intensive courtship that included the promise of Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade and legislation that would permit anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious liberty.
Christian writer Eric Sapp compared Trump’s offer to the biblical story in which Satan offered to give Jesus the power to rule the world if only he will bow to the devil. “American Christians should not take a deal Jesus rejected,” wrote Sapp.
Religious Right leaders did take that deal, throwing their support to Trump and helping him garner a huge majority of white evangelical voters. Now Trump is paying off his political debts with a Supreme Court nominee that thrills Religious Right activists, with his renewed pledge to away with the Johnson Amendment, and potentially with a sweeping executive order that could gut nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans.
People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.