U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to the media after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas left the White House in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas By Steve Holland | WASHINGTON
WASHINGTON President Donald Trump is expected to take executive action on Thursday to effectively lift a ban on political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions, a senior White House official said on Wednesday.
Trump will mark the National Day of Prayer by issuing guidance to federal agencies like the Treasury Department on how to interpret a 1954 law known as the Johnson Amendment that prohibits churches, charities and educational institutions from participating in political campaigns.
Trump frequently complained about the amendment during his campaign for the presidency, bolstering his support among religious conservatives who contend it violates free speech and religious freedom rights.
The Treasury Department has the power to withdraw tax-exempt status for religious organizations, and the order is expected to give the department guidance on how to enforce the law, the White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as details of the guidance were still being worked out.
Changing the law altogether would require action in the Republican-led U.S. Congress.
Civil liberties and gay rights groups fear Trump's religious liberty order could include provisions to allow government agencies and businesses to deny services to gay people in the name of religious freedom. The groups have argued that kind of declaration would be unconstitutional.
It was not clear on Wednesday whether the order would include that type of measure, the official said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Andrew Hay)