On May 4th 2017, President Trump held a ceremony at the White House during which he signed an Executive Order on Religious Freedom. By his order, he weakened the “Johnson Amendment,” that is, the prohibition on tax-exempt entities to be involved in political campaigns. He said pastors need to be free to speak their mind, and should never fear that they will be punished by the government for doing so.
Prior to his presidential campaign, this is a theme I had written about in my book Abolishing Abortion
President Trump noted the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. in preaching to change public policy, and in his honor, gave to Priests for Life team member Alveda King one of the two pens the President used in the signing ceremony.
Here are excerpts from his remarks:
“No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.”
“As I campaigned across the country, faith leaders explained they were prevented from speaking their minds because of a 1954 rule known as the Johnson Amendment. I spoke about it a lot. Under this rule, if a pastor, priest or imam speaks about issues of public or political importance, they are threatened with the loss of their tax-exempt status, a financial punishment. Very, very unfair. But no longer.”
“I promised to take action if I won. ... And this financial threat against the faith community is over. In just a few moments, I will be signing an executive order to follow through on that pledge and to prevent the Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. And you’re the people I want to listen to. Other people are allowed to tell me and everybody what to do. I want to hear it from you, and so do a lot of other people. So, you’re now in a position where you can say what you want to say. And I know you’ll only say good and you’ll say what’s in your heart. And that’s what we want from you. You are great, great people.”
“This executive order directs the IRS not to unfairly target churches and religious organizations for political speech. No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors. In America we do not fear people speaking freely from the pulpit. We embrace it. America has a rich tradition of social change beginning in our pews and our pulpits. We must never infringe on the noble tradition of change from the church and progress from the pew.”
“Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue or any other house of worship. We are giving our churches their voices back and we are giving them back in the highest form.”