President retells fib during National Day of Prayer observance

Dangerous Mix

President Trump repeated one of his favorite lies during this morning’s prayer service in the Rose Garden. To mark the National Day of Prayer — an unconstitutional event — he told that audience that he “got rid of the Johnson Amendment.” 

The Johnson Amendment is the federal law ensuring that charitable donations go to charitable work, not political campaigns. It requires all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, to refrain from endorsing political candidates.

The safeguard is immensely popular. Several polls show that Americans want to keep politics out of their pulpits. According to Lifeway Research, an evangelical polling group whose slogan is “Biblical Solutions for Life,” nearly 80 percent of Americans oppose pastors endorsing a candidate in church and 75 percent oppose churches publicly endorsing candidates. Religious leaders want this rule: More than 4,000 faith leaders from diverse backgrounds have asked Congress to protect this rule. Nonprofits want this rule: More than 4,500 nonprofits have also asked that the rule remain in place.

But to a small minority of white evangelical Protestant churches, which happen to make up Trump’s loyal base, the Johnson Amendment is anathema. So Trump told them today:

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the Johnson Amendment. You can now speak your mind and speak it freely. I said I was going to do that. I told Paula White [a Florida-based megapreacher who has glommed onto Trump], who I want to thank so much for everything she’s done. Paula. That was one of the things I said: that they took away your voice politically. And these are the people I want to listen to politically. But you weren’t allowed to speak. They would lose their tax-exempt status. But that’s not happening anymore. So we got rid of the Johnson Amendment. That’s a big thing.”

But none of this is true. Trump is referring to the religious freedom executive order he signed on the National Day of Prayer in 2017. FFRF sued him over that order the same day — and we prevailed. Trump’s attorneys admitted in court, “The [executive] order does not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations.”

That’s why the media reported on the loss. The Washington Post, in an article cheekily titled, “Critics said Trump’s ‘religious liberty’ order does nothing. The administration’s lawyers seem to agree,” explained: “Department of Justice attorneys defending the order argued in court that it doesn’t change any existing laws or alter any policies to benefit churches or clergy.”

In short, Trump’s order did nothing. The Johnson Amendment still exists and is still in force. Law360, a legal news site run by LexisNexis, ran a story with the headline, “Bar On Religious Political Activity Still Applies, DOJ Says.”

Trump lied during a prayer service. And his base will love him for it.

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