TwitterFacebookPinterestGoogle+

Trump To Weaken IRS Rule Against Church Political Activity

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order further weakening already-sparse enforcement of an IRS rule threatening the loss of tax-exempt status for religious organizations that endorse political candidates.

The order, which also affects non-profits, promises “regulatory relief” for groups with religious objections to the preventive services requirement in the Affordable Care Act, according to a White House official. Those requirements include covering birth control and the move could apply to religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have moral objections to paying for contraception.

Trump will sign the order as he marks the National Day of Prayer at the White House Thursday. He was hosting members of his evangelical advisory board and planned to meet Roman Catholic leaders in the Oval Office before signing the order.

The White House did not release the full text of the order, and it was not clear just how the pledges stated within the order would be carried out. The order, which essentially would make it even less likely that a religious organization would lose its tax-exempt status because of a political endorsement, fall short of what religious conservatives expected from Trump, who won overwhelming support from evangelicals by promising to “protect Christianity” and religious freedom.

Ralph Reed, a longtime evangelical leader and founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said he was briefed by White House officials about the text of the executive order. Reed called the provisions an excellent first step in the Trump administration’s plans for protecting religious freedom

Reed said he was “thrilled” by the language on the IRS restrictions on partisan political activity. “This administratively removes the threat of harassment,” Reed said in a phone interview. “That is a really big deal.” He said the language in the order related to the preventive care mandate will “ensure that as long as Donald Trump is president, that something like the Little Sisters of the Poor case will never happen again.”

Still, Mark Silk, a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut who writes extensively on religious freedom, called the planned actions as described by the White House as “very weak tea,” especially compared to the draft religious freedom executive order that leaked earlier this year, That document contained sweeping provisions on conscience protection for faith-based ministries, schools and federal workers across an array of agencies. “It’s gestural as far as I can tell,” Silk said. “It seems like a whimper.”

Trump has long pledged to protect religious freedom. He promised to “totally destroy” the law prohibiting the political activities, known as the Johnson Amendment, when he spoke in February at the National Prayer Breakfast, a high-profile Washington event with faith leaders, politicians and dignitaries. Fully abolishing the regulation would take an act of Congress, but Trump can direct the IRS not to enforce the prohibitions.

The White House official, who sought anonymity to speak despite the president’s criticism of anonymous sources, told reporters Wednesday night that the order will direct the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” over the rule.

The regulation, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, was put into force in 1954 and prohibited partisan political activity for churches and other tax-exempt organizations. The policy still allows a wide range of advocacy on political issues, but in the case of houses of worship, it bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit. The rule has rarely been enforced.

The IRS does not make public its investigations in such cases, but only one church is known to have lost its tax-exempt status as a result of the prohibition. The Church at Pierce Creek in Conklin, New York, was penalized for taking out newspaper ads telling Christians they could not vote for Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. Even so, some religious leaders have argued the rule has a chilling effect on free speech, and have advocated for years for repeal.

While Trump’s action on the Johnson Amendment aims to please religious conservatives, some oppose any action that would weaken the policy.

In a February survey of evangelical leaders conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents churches from about 40 denominations, 89 percent said pastors should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Nearly 100 clergy and faith leaders from across a range of denominations sent a letter last month to congressional leaders urging them to uphold the regulation. They said the IRS rule protects houses of worship and religious groups from political pressure.

Easing political activity rules for churches also raises questions about whether churches could be pulled into the campaign finance sphere and effectively become “dark money” committees that play partisan politics without disclosing donors.

The order’s health care provision could apply to groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who run more than two dozen nursing homes for impoverished seniors, and have moral objections to paying the birth control costs of women in their health plans. The Obama administration created a buffer meant to shield those groups, but they said it didn’t go far enough. They continued to press their case in the courts. Last year, the Supreme Court asked lower courts to take another look at the issue.

VIDEO NEWS

National Politics

Congressman Soto: New Democrat Coalition Releases Technology Task Force Goals for the 116th Congress

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the New Democrat Coalition Technology Task Force Co-Chairs Darren Soto, Sharice…

Step by step: Democrats play the long game against Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — First came the sternly worded letters. Then the subpoenas. Now the votes…

Once again, Iraq caught up in tensions between US and Iran

BAGHDAD (AP) — When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with Iraqi officials…

Trump Delays Imposing Tariffs on Auto Imports and Parts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Caught in a sprawling trade dispute with U.S. rival China, President Donald…

STATE & LOCAL POLITICS

Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Leadership and Delegation for Historic Business Development Mission to Israel

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Rcently, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the leadership and delegation for the Governor’s…

Gov. DeSantis: ‘Dumping’ migrants in Florida is unacceptable

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s governor plans to fight any federal plans to fly hundreds…

Governor Ron DeSantis Signs CS/HB 107: Wireless Communications While Driving

Sarasota, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed CS/HB 107: Wireless Communications While Driving. The law…

U.S. Reps Darren Soto and Brian Mast To Hold Press Conference on Congressional Services Act in Kissimmee May 20

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – On Monday, May 20th at 9:30 am, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and…

FNN SPORTS

  • Orlando City's Chris Mueller (in white) battle for the ball against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Photo courtesy of The Bleacher Report.
    ORLANDO (FNN SPORTS) - MATCH RECAP: Orlando City Falls 1-0 in Atlanta (Photo courtesy of The Bleacher Report)

MORE SPORTS NEWS

The Latest: Tiger on wrong side of cut at PGA Championship

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — The Latest on the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Friday…

Only four players in 100 years have won six NFL titles

Tom Brady will soon slip on his sixth Super Bowl ring, and Herb Adderley is…

Jaguars Make Roster Moves Following Day Two of Rookie Minicamp

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – Source: Jacksonville Jaguars // Following the the team’s annual rookie minicamp,…

MATCH RECAP: Orlando City Falls 1-0 in Atlanta

ATLANTA (FNN SPORTS) - Source: Orlando City SC // Orlando City (3-5-3, 12 points) fell 1-0…

Portland Thorns FC Rout Orlando Pride 3-1 at Home

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) - The Orlando Pride have an uphill battle this season. With…

Bucks beat Celtics 116-91 to advance to East final

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks found another gear after their first…

BUSINESS NEWS

  • FILE In this May 31, 2018, file photo a customer enters the Apple store in New York. Apple on Monday, March 18, 2019, unveiled a new iPad that's thinner and slightly larger than its current entry-level tablet. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
    NEW YORK (AP) - Apple refreshes iPad lineup, with larger entry-level model. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

MORE BUSINESS NEWS

Trump Delays Imposing Tariffs on Auto Imports and Parts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Caught in a sprawling trade dispute with U.S. rival China, President Donald…

US to Add 30,000 Seasonal Worker Visas as Soon as This Week

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration plans to allow 30,000 more foreign workers temporarily into…

Shark Tank Star Daymond John, DWTS's Lindsay Arnold, Joey Fatone to Host Runway to Hope 2019 Gala

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) - Runway to Hope co-founder Attorney Mark NeJame announced on Facebook Wednesday…

Bank of America Raising Hourly Minimum Wage to $20

NEW YORK (AP) — Bank of America plans to raise its starting pay to $20…

Pinterest sets sites on $1.5B in first public share offering

NEW YORK (AP) — Pinterest, among a gaggle of tech companies planning to go public…

Gone in 6 minutes: an Ethiopian Airlines jet’s final journey

From nearly the moment they roared down the runway and took off in their new…

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS

  • “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” star Brad Pitt is all smiles on the 2019 Cannes Film Festival red carpet for the film's premiere Tuesday, May 21. Photo: Patience Eding/Another Concept Magazine/Florida National News.
    CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - [PHOTOS] 2019 Cannes Film Festival: ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Stars Electrify the Red Carpet (Photo: Patience Eding/Another Concept Magazine/Florida National News)

MORE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS

[PHOTOS] 2019 Cannes Film Festival: ‘Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood’ Stars Electrify the Red Carpet

CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood premiered…

[PHOTOS] 2019 Cannes Film Festival: Model Winnie Harlow Wows on the Red Carpet

CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - Game-changing model Winnie Harlow, who rocked the world several years ago…

Review: Egerton glitters in glossy, conventional ‘Rocketman’

Whatever you say about Dexter Fletcher’s glossy, glittering Elton John blinged-out biopic ”Rocketman ,” a shiny…

[PHOTOS] Bella Hadid Stuns for “Dolor Y Gloria” Premiere at Cannes Film Festival

CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - Supermodel and Bvlgari ambassador Bella Hadid is no stranger to…

Pop Icon Dionne Warwick Releases New Album “She's Back”

NEW YORK, N.Y. (FNN NEWS) - Legendary Grammy Award-winner Dionne Warwick releases her new album, She’s Back (Kind Music/Entertainment…

Grumpy Cat, Who Entertained Millions Online, Dies at Age 7

MORRISTOWN, Ariz. (AP) — Grumpy Cat, whose sourpuss expression entertained millions on the internet and…

LIFESTYLE, TRAVEL & TOURISM

  • “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” star Brad Pitt is all smiles on the 2019 Cannes Film Festival red carpet for the film's premiere Tuesday, May 21. Photo: Patience Eding/Another Concept Magazine/Florida National News.
    CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - [PHOTOS] 2019 Cannes Film Festival: ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Stars Electrify the Red Carpet (Photo: Patience Eding/Another Concept Magazine/Florida National News)

MORE LIFESTYLE NEWS

[PHOTOS] 2019 Cannes Film Festival: ‘Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood’ Stars Electrify the Red Carpet

CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood premiered…

[PHOTOS] 2019 Cannes Film Festival: Model Winnie Harlow Wows on the Red Carpet

CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) - Game-changing model Winnie Harlow, who rocked the world several years ago…

[PHOTOS] The Most Stunning Celebrity Looks from 2019 Cannes Film Festival’s Opening Night

CANNES, France (FNN NEWS) – Stunning celebrity fashion filled the red carpet on Opening Night…

Governor Ron DeSantis, Gary Sinise and Westgate Resorts Honor Thousands of Military Families

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (FNN NEWS) - Westgate Resorts, Gary Sinise and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hosted thousands of military families in Kissimmee…

Expedia Unpacks the Best Time to Book, Cheap Places to Visit, and Everything Else You Need to Know About Summer 2019

BELLEVUE, Wash. (FNN NEWS) - Searches for "summer 2019" have been on the rise for the…

3 black women win Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America

NEW YORK (AP) — When Cheslie Kryst won the Miss USA crown, it marked more…