Johnson Amendment

And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

President Donald Trump hosted a "huge state-like dinner" — as the Christian Broadcasting Network described it — for 100 evangelical leaders invited to the White House on Monday night.

What, you didn't hear about it?

Apparently, the event was not considered particularly newsworthy by major news organizations — which is surprising to me given how often Trump's evangelical supporters make it into headlines. (Hey, did you know that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the brash billionaire?)

Is what the president of the United States says to some of his strongest and most influential supporters not worthy of prominent ink? 

When I looked this morning, I saw mainly stories from conservative media, from Breitbart to the Washington Times.

The Washington Times characterized the dinner this way:

President Trump hosted a dinner of Evangelical leaders at the White House Monday night and told them that he has delivered “just about everything I promised” on policies of religious liberty and defense of life.

“The support you’ve given me has been incredible,” Mr. Trump told the group. “But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised.”

Among those attending the event were the Rev. Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Pastor Paula White, a prominent spiritual adviser to the president.

Mr. Trump said under his administration, “the attacks on the communities of faith are over.” He cited actions to defend the religious conscience of health-care workers, teachers, students and religious employers; executive branch guidance on protecting religious liberty, and proposed regulations to bar taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion.

“Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re standing for religious believers, because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.”

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Publisher declares this news story on Johnson Amendment 'accurate and complete,' but is it really?

Publisher declares this news story on Johnson Amendment 'accurate and complete,' but is it really?

Sometimes, writing a GetReligion post is as simple as paying attention to Twitter.

Today's edition is brought to you courtesy of an exchange I witnessed between James A. Smith Sr., vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, and Ron Fournier, publisher/editor of Crain's Business Detroit.

Yes, this is the same Ron Fournier whose 20-year career in the nation's capital included serving as Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press. 

The back-and-forth between Smith and Fournier concerned a Crain's Business Detroit blog item on the Johnson Amendment:

Charitable nonprofits could see new pressure to endorse political candidates and partisan issues if a renewed bid to repeal the Johnson Amendment becomes a reality.
Following the defeat of a similar proposal last year as part of the tax reform legislation, politicians and special interest groups reiterated their goal of repealing the amendment last week at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, the National Council of Nonprofits said in an email alert Monday afternoon seeking nonprofit advocacy on the issue.
The council said it believes congressional leaders are now considering an upcoming appropriations bill as a vehicle to nullify the amendment. Such a repeal would fulfill a promise President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail.

In response to the item, Smith tweeted:

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Big question in Rose Garden today: A victory, or Trump white flag, on religious liberty issues?

Big question in Rose Garden today: A victory, or Trump white flag, on religious liberty issues?

First Amendment pros on both the left and the right are bracing themselves to find out what is in new, revised executive order on religious liberty that will be signed by President Donald Trump today, which is the National Day of Prayer.

So are reporters. So are millions of religious believers and unbelievers who care about First Amendment rights.

If you fit into one of those categories, then you are probably reading the advance reports on the rumors about this executive order.

Let me provide a piece of advice: Skip the report in USA Today. It is totally predictable and one-sided.

Instead, read the advance report in The New York Times and note, in particular, that the Times allowed its veteran religion-beat reporter to take part in the coverage. I wish the Times team had made one or two more telephone calls -- or followed some rather prophetic folks on Twitter -- to include the views of Trump critics who (a) are on the cultural right and (b) have solid credentials on religious liberty issues.

We will come back to the Times. Let's take a hard look at the USA Today piece. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON -- Seeking to appeal to social conservatives who backed him in heavy numbers, President Trump will issue an executive order Thursday designed to "protect and vigorously promote religious liberty" and "alleviate the burden" of a law designed to prohibit religious leaders from speaking out about politics, according to senior administration officials.
The order aims to make it easier for employers with religious objections not to include contraception coverage in workers' health care plans, although it would be up to federal agencies to determine how that would happen.
It would also ease IRS enforcement of the so-called Johnson Amendment, which says tax-exempt religious organizations cannot participate in political activity. While only Congress can formally do away with the law, this will pave the way for churches and other religious leaders to speak about politics and endorse candidates without worrying about losing their tax-exempt status.

First of all, note the meaningless language that the Johnson Amendment says that "tax-exempt religious organizations cannot participate in political activity." That does little or nothing to help readers understand what is actually at stake.

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Potential impact of Johnson Amendment repeal: Associated Press delves a little more deeply

Potential impact of Johnson Amendment repeal: Associated Press delves a little more deeply

Last year, I wrote about the Johnson Amendment -- the 1954 law that President Donald Trump has vowed to "totally destroy" -- in a piece for Christianity Today's ChurchLawandTax.com project.

My article was titled "Avoiding the elephant (or donkey) in the pulpit." 

In that story, some pastors noted a difference -- in their view -- between (1) touching on biblical issues that some might label political and (2) taking overtly partisan stands.

This is a long chunk of material, but I think readers will find it useful in looking at some new reporting by the Associated Press. OK, here we go:

Dean Inserra doesn’t back down from preaching on political issues. Neither does Inserra, founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, believe in partisanship from the pulpit. How exactly does the 35-year-old pastor manage to address politics without becoming partisan?
“I’m unashamed and quick to speak on issues,” the Southern Baptist pastor said, suggesting that cultural concerns such as racial reconciliation, immigration, sexuality, and poverty “are spiritual issues before they’re political issues.”
“If we stay in the Word, two things are going to happen,” Inserra said. “One, we won’t be able to avoid speaking on political issues because they’re listed throughout Scripture. Two, we’re not going to be accused of being partisan or political because even our biggest critic will have to conclude. . . that we’re just teaching what the Bible says.”
Inserra serves a politically diverse congregation of about 1,000 people in Florida’s capital city. His audience each Sunday is a mix of college students, young professionals, and state government employees -- both Democrats and Republicans.
To avoid partisanship, Inserra said he focuses on the Bible -- and tries to be consistent in how he applies the Scriptures, whether talking about abortion or Syrian refugees.
“To me, immigration and abortion can come out of the same breath because they’re both life issues,” said Inserra, who started City Church when he was 26. “Maybe two of the most vulnerable people in our society are, one, the unborn child, and two, the refugee.
“If we’re always finding ourselves perfectly siding with one party as a Christian,” he added, “we’re probably more in that party than we are Christian when it comes to our views.”’

Wait. There's more. In that piece, I explained:

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Surprise! New York Times frames Johnson Amendment 'explainer' in pure Kellerism

Surprise! New York Times frames Johnson Amendment 'explainer' in pure Kellerism

It's a given, isn't it, that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It seems also a given that The New York Times will drench itself in Kellerism -- the emerging journalism doctrine that says many moral, cultural and religious issues are already decided, so there's no need for journalists to be balanced in their coverage.

The paper moved at warp speed to "explain" -- and I use that term loosely -- a promise made by President Donald J. Trump at the 65th National Prayer Breakfast on the morning of Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C. The vow was that the 1954 amendment to the tax code known as the "Johnson Amendment" would be "destroyed" during his term.

So what is this Johnson Amendment? And why is it a hot-button issue?

Never fear: The New York Times is here to Explain It All For You:

It is one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics. Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
Considered uncontroversial at the time, it was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican. Today, however, many Republicans want to repeal it.

Wwweeellll, sort of. The Internal Revenue Service, which monitors the activities of tax-exempt groups, including churches, specifies that the rules apply to "all section 501(c)(3) organizations" and not just churches, mosques or synagogues. In other words, the reference to "entities like churches and charitable organizations" is a bit on the vague side of things.

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About that Pew survey on politics and the pulpit: So what makes an issue POLITICAL?

About that Pew survey on politics and the pulpit: So what makes an issue POLITICAL?
Many Americans Hear Politics From the Pulpit

That was the takeaway from a recent national survey of thousands of churchgoers by the Pew Research Center.

This was the lede from Religion News Service:

(RNS) Most American churchgoers are hearing politics from the pulpits of their churches during this presidential election season, according to a new survey.
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (64 percent) in the survey released Monday (Aug. 8) by the Pew Research Center say their clergy have spoken about at least one political or social issue in the spring and early summer.

And from the Los Angeles Times:

At wedding receptions, barbershops and on park benches, this year's unusual presidential campaign is often an unavoidable topic of discussion.
As usual in presidential races, it's also seeping into houses of worship across the nation. 

From Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton, and from abortion to immigration, many Americans are hearing politics from the pulpit, according to a survey released this week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. 

But here's my question: Are Americans really hearing political issues from the pulpit?

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