The Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty directs the IRS to provide “regulatory relief” to faith-based organisations that are tax-exempt, a White House spokesman said on Wednesday night.
A current provision in the US federal tax code, known as the Johnson Amendment, says that churches can be investigated and lose their tax-exempt status if they directly support or oppose any political candidate.
Since he cannot repeal the law without congressional legislation, Mr Trump is directing the IRS to “exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment”.
Few religious groups are known to have lost their tax status for violating the law, despite many churches openly advocating for political causes and hosting candidates during their campaigns.
“A crippling financial punishment,” Mr Trump said ahead of his signing, adding “very, very unfair. But no longer”.
The order also directs federal agencies to exempt some religious groups from providing birth control to employees and staff, as required under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
I like both parts of this order. For the first part, I have always thought that it was unconstitutional to make a tax break for religious organizations contingent on them saying (or not saying) what the government wants them to say (or not say). Our nation has generally decided to make religious organizations tax exempt because their existence and activities helping society is a positive that we want to encourage. If we no longer think that and want to tax them, then that is a decision our nation can make. But that decision should be based on the merits and not on whether or not some politician approves of the political activities of the religions organization.
Furthermore, as the story indicates, many churches have openly flaunted the Johnson Amendment for years with no consequences. Bill Clinton practically lived at the pulpit of black churches in the south when he was campaigning. So if we’re not going to enforce it for everyone, why have the law at all?
On the second part, this Obamacare rule violates the rights of these organizations to exercise their faith. Good riddance.
It’s good to see some progress this week on pulling back the coercive force of government.