Trump's order to free religious political activity gets mixed reviews


MINNEAPOLIS (AP)

President Donald Trump's order to ease limits on political activity by religious organizations is being met with both enthusiasm and dread from religious leaders, with some rejoicing in the freedom to preach their views and endorse candidates and others fearing the change will erode the integrity of houses of worship.

Trump signed the executive order Thursday, saying it would give churches their "voices back." It directs the Treasury Department not to take action against religious organizations that engage in political speech.

"It's never good for the church or the state when the two get in bed with each other," said the Rev. Gregory Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, a nondenominational church in suburban St. Paul.

For pastors to use the pulpit "to get others to buy into their particular way of voting is, I think, a real abuse of authority," he added.

The Rev. Charlie Muller, pastor of the nondenominational Victory Christian Church in Albany, New York, is excited. As soon as details of the order are sorted out, his church plans to endorse a candidate for mayor.

"I'm very involved politically, but we've been handcuffed," Muller said. "We want to have a voice, and we haven't had that."

Trump had long promised conservative Christian supporters that he would block the IRS regulation, known as the Johnson Amendment, though any repeal would have to be done by Congress. The amendment, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, was enacted in 1954 and allows a wide range of advocacy on political issues. But it bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit.

Soon after the president signed the order, an atheist group known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed papers in federal court seeking to block the measure.

The IRS does not publicize violation investigations, but only one church is known to have lost its tax-exempt status for breaking the rule. Because the limits are rarely enforced, some say the regulation never had teeth, and Trump's signature amounted to a photo opportunity.

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