News and analysis
February 02, 2017

Trump Pledges to Kill Law Limiting Nonprofits’ Political Activities

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Addressing the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday, President Trump vowed to end limits on nonprofits' political activities.

President Trump said Thursday he would work to end a 63-year-old law that limits nonprofits’ political activities.

"I will get rid and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution," President Trump said. "I will do that."

The comments came during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Mr. Trump would not be able to do away with the law on his own, though. He would need the support of lawmakers.

"Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us, and the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways," President Trump said.

It was not the first time he has promised to scrap the law. In September, Mr. Trump joked with a roomful of Christian leaders that the only way he would get into heaven was by repealing the Johnson Amendment, which he promised to do.

Enacted in 1954 following a push by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, the law bars tax-exempt organizations from endorsing and campaigning on behalf of political candidates. It’s why, for example, American ministers, rabbis, and imams speak about issues and values during campaigns but are required to stop short of suggesting how people vote.

Some religious leaders argue the politicking ban limits their freedom of speech and that it is fitting and appropriate that they counsel their congregations and followers on things as important as voting. The law has come under attack before. Last year, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to loosen the current parameters.

But supporters of the prohibition on politics say that it helps at least some to keep the lines between nonprofit tax-subsidized work and political activity from eroding. In other words, religious organizations could become magnets for tax-free donations that in turn are used to support political campaigns. 

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