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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 17, 2017 1:00 am

Churches, politics to remain separated

Associated Press

NEW YORK – A provision that would have freed churches to make political endorsements has been dropped from the Republican tax overhaul, dashing the hopes of a segment of religious conservatives on what has been a key issue to the Trump administration.

Conservative groups have for years sought to abolish IRS rules that bar electioneering by houses of worship and other charitable groups. President Donald Trump pressed the fight on the campaign trail and in the White House.

Still, only Congress has the authority to repeal the restriction known as the Johnson Amendment. It was named for President Lyndon Johnson, who introduced the measure in 1954 when he was a Democratic senator from Texas upset about a few nonprofit groups that had attacked him as a communist during a Senate race.

Under the IRS regulations, pastors and churches are not allowed to endorse a particular candidate in a sermon or during church services without potentially losing their status as an organization exempted from paying taxes. Even so, the IRS rarely enforces the rule.

The latest repeal effort was tucked into the GOP tax bill. The House eliminated the restrictions for houses of worship and all nonprofits. The Senate bill did not include the provision, prompting a negotiation as a House-Senate committee worked to blend the two separate tax bills into a final package.

The Senate parliamentarian decided the provision did not meet a Senate requirement that all parts of the bill be related to the budget.