Trump Vowed To Lure America's Houses Of Worship Into Partisan Politics. Here's How Americans United And Its Allies Stopped Him.
Church-state separation advocates are celebrating that President Donald Trump has not been able to keep his promise "to get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment."
This month marks the two-year anniversary of Trump making that vow, which occurred during a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast just two weeks into his term as president. However, it wasn't the first time Trump had threatened the Johnson Amendment.
It was almost exactly a year earlier, during his campaign for the presidency, that Trump first publicly took aim at the federal provision that protects the integrity of both our elections and nonprofits, including houses of worship, by ensuring nonprofits don't endorse or oppose political candidates.
During a February 2016 campaign rally in Texas, Trump described a private meeting with evangelical pastors who allegedly said they wouldn't endorse him to their congregations due to the law. That prompted Trump to vocally oppose the Johnson Amendment: "Now we're gonna get rid of that.... That's one of the first things I want to do. I want to get rid of that, and politically if we use that power, we're gonna start going go up up up ..."
Religious Right leaders who want to boost their own political power and who've had unprecedented influence over the Trump White House may advocate for gutting the Johnson Amendment, but they're at odds with faith leaders across the country. Thousands of faith leaders--not to mention thousands of nonprofits, more than a hundred religious organizations and the majority of Americans--have repeatedly voiced support for the current law.
That explains why the Johnson Amendment remains intact today, despite repeated attempts to repeal and undermine it over the past two years by Trump and his allies in the previously Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
"The Johnson Amendment has broad public support because Americans don't want to see their houses of worship and charitable nonprofits become tools for partisan politics," said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, during one of the lame-duck Congress' last-ditch efforts to gut the law in December.
Recognizing the threat Trump posed to the law, Americans United built a coalition with allied organizations, faith leaders and community activists to raise awareness of the widespread support for the Johnson Amendment and to urge members of Congress to oppose any attempts to undermine it.
Attacks on the law came swiftly and continuously throughout the past two years. In fact, one perennial Johnson Amendment foe introduced repeal legislation on the first day of the new Congress in 2017, several weeks before Trump's inauguration. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) sponsored a bill to remove the Johnson Amendment provision from the tax code, as he had almost every session of Congress since 2001.