Trump’s order on churches may have unintended consequences

A lobbyist for Southern Baptists in Georgia is cheering President Donald Trump’s move to roll back a 63-year-old ban on churches’ direct involvement in political campaigns.

Mike Griffin, lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, the state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the federal tax law that bars churches and ministers from direct campaigning violates the First Amendment rights of people of faith.

“The rank-and-file of pastors and churches are very shy to speak out from the pulpit,” he said. “It has gotten so bad in our day that some ministers will not speak out on moral issues.”

But Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based group aligned with mainline Baptist churches, said the law known as the Johnson Amendment has long protected churches from political interference.

“The religious community by and large is opposed to endorsing candidates from the pulpit,” she said. “If the laws change you are going to have enormous pressure from campaigns and donors associated with these campaigns.”

Regardless, Tyler said, the executive order Trump signed last week does little to change the status quo. While the law threatens churches with the loss of their non-profit tax status if they violate it, t he IRS largely was not enforcing it , she said. To truly change the landscape, Congress would need to act, she said.

What are the consequences if faith organizations are free to endorse candidates by name and campaign for them? Read this week’s AJC Watchdog for more.

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