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At Values Summit, Trump urges repeal of restrictions on churches’ freedom of speech

The Republican candidates doubled down on a campaign promise to eliminate a law that stifles church leaders' free speech.
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Claire Chretien By Claire Chretien

Claire Chretien By Claire Chretien

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — At the 2016 Values Voter Summit on Friday and Saturday, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, his running mate Gov. Mike Pence, and Senator James Lankford R-OK, all blasted a 1954 tax regulation that limits churches’ and pastors’ political speech.

“The first thing we have to do is give our churches their voice back,” Trump told the conference of evangelical voters and social conservative activists. “It’s been taken away. The Johnson Amendment has blocked our pastors and ministers and others from speaking their minds from their own pulpits. If they want to talk about Christianity, if they want to preach, if they want to talk about politics, they’re unable to do so. If they want to do it, they take a tremendous risk that they lose their tax-exempt status.”

“All religious leaders should be able to freely express their thoughts and feelings on religious matters. And I will repeal the Johnson Amendment if I am elected your president, I promise,” said Trump, calling this “so important.”

He said he met with 50 pastors, two rabbis, and a few Catholic priests and asked for their support but was taken aback when they told him if they endorsed him, their institutions would risk losing their tax-exempt statuses. 

“The people that you rely on on Sunday and all during the week, they’ve been stopped from talking and speaking by a law,” Trump said. “We’re going to get rid of that law … we’re going to get rid of it so fast.”

“Anyone with more than a passing knowledge of the founding of this nation knows that the most powerful speeches that have thundered about independence in the land thundered from the pulpits of this nation,” Pence said. “I’ve stood in the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King railed against the injustices that took place in places all across America. And again, it was the voice of the people of faith that advanced the cause of civil rights all across America.”

“We couldn’t be more proud that for the first time ever part of our platform and a priority of the Trump administration will be the full repeal of the Johnson Amendment,” Pence continued. “We will take the muzzle off people of faith in this nation and let the voice of faith be heard.”

“We are the beacon, and if we pull back from religious liberty, the rest of the world will pull back from religious liberty. Instead of President Obama and Secretary Clinton doing a ‘Russian reset,’ maybe we should do a religious liberty reset in our own country first,” Lankford suggested.

“People of faith don’t limit freedom for everybody else,” he said in a speech that heavily emphasized religious liberty. “They’re a part of our national freedom.”

“In the 1950s, President Johnson was furious at people in non-profit organizations that they would speak out against him,” the Oklahoma senator continued. “And so he passed an amendment so that the IRS would go after non-profits if they spoke out for any political issue. The IRS later then reinterpreted that to also say that included churches — that churches couldn’t do that. Now churches haven’t faced an actual threat of the IRS coming down on them with very few exceptions, but the IRS continues to dangle over churches: If you ever speak out about faith issues, we could come after you.”

“Not that the IRS has ever been used for nefarious means,” he quipped. “Not that that would ever happen. But it continues to dangle over churches to say if you choose to speak out about our culture, we could come after you.”

The Johnson Amendment is one the main reasons the pro-life, pro-family legal group Alliance Defending Freedom created Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual event encouraging pastors to freely speak about political and moral issues during church services.


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