Trump Order on Speech Has Limited Effect; President Trump's Executive Order Addressing a Rarely Enforced IRS Rule regarding Political Activity by Religious Organizations Makes No Legal Changes, Observers Said. [Derived Headline]

By Zwick, Kevin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

Trump Order on Speech Has Limited Effect; President Trump's Executive Order Addressing a Rarely Enforced IRS Rule regarding Political Activity by Religious Organizations Makes No Legal Changes, Observers Said. [Derived Headline]


Zwick, Kevin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


President Trump's executive order addressing a rarely enforced IRS rule regarding political activity by religious organizations makes no legal changes, observers said.

But the president's action signals to tax-exempt religious organizations they can more freely engage in political activity -- as permitted currently under law -- without worrying about drawing IRS scrutiny.

Jeremy Samek, senior legal counsel for the conservative Pennsylvania Family Institute and a member of Cornerstone Ministries in Export, said pastors often self-police their speech over concerns of stepping over the line. The order is beneficial to pastors who know the executive branch isn't going to curb their speech.

"They should have an ability to speak from the pulpit and apply their religious beliefs to the issues of the day," he said.

The order, signed Thursday, is related to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision that bars religious groups and certain other nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

Trump pledged to "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast this year. But his executive order can't change existing law. Only Congress can make or change laws.

Samek said religious organizations with both liberal and conservative denominations have for years protested the Johnson Amendment by videotaping themselves explicitly violating the law and sending the videos to the IRS. However, the IRS has taken no action, he said. …

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