What Is The Johnson Amendment? Trump Hopes To Draw In Evangelical Voters With This Proposal
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump introduced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate in a press conference Saturday that oddly failed to keep focus on the newly named vice presidential candidate. Touching on everything from terror attacks to his Brexit predictions to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton before finally turning the podium over to Pence, Trump seemed to keep to his characteristic off-the-cuff speaking style. At one point in his nearly 30-minute speech, the GOP's presumptive nominee launched into a tangent regarding his plan to repeal the "Johnson Amendment," signaling his campaign's turn toward religiously conservative voters. So, what is the Johnson Amendment, and why is the GOP looking to take it off the books?
In naming Pence, a thoroughly right-wing politician, as his running mate, Trump appears that he is trying to appeal to evangelical and socially conservative voters. His push to repeal the Johnson Amendment seems to be a similarly motivated move.
"I said for the evangelicals that we're going to do something that nobody has even tried to do," Trump said Saturday in a sometimes rambling portion of his speech. "We're going to get rid of that horrible Johnson Amendment and we're going to let evangelicals, we're going to let Christians and Jews and people of religion talk without being afraid to talk." Trump said he was "so proud" to have made the repeal of the Johnson Amendment a part of the Republican Party's official 2016 platform. "Religion's voice has been taken away and we're going to change that," he said before returning to his introduction of Pence.
The "Johnson Amendment," as Trump called it, is a 1954 tax code law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from directly or indirectly endorsing political candidates. "Section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office," the IRS says in defining the law on its official website. "Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity." According to the IRS, organizations that violate the rule could find their tax-exempt status revoked.
Trump may indeed find his proposal to repeal the "Johnson Amendment" well received among conservative voters. Although the Republican platform makes it significantly more likely for GOPers to feel churches should have the right to express political opinions, a 2014 Pew Research report found "a growing minority of Americans — 32 percent — think churches should endorse candidates for political office."
Saturday wasn't the first time Trump has proposed repealing the Johnson Amendment; he's brought it up a few times on the campaign trail. While speaking before religious conservatives in June in New York, Trump described religious leaders as "petrified" to speak freely and likened the issue to a matter of religious liberty. He declared his proposal to repeal the tax code his "greatest contribution to Christianity and other religions."