(Corrects fourth paragraph to show Faith in Public Life does
not intend to back specific candidates)
By Scott Malone
BOSTON May 4 President Donald Trump's executive
order on Thursday making it easier for churches to dabble in
politics kept faith with his promise to evangelical Christians
who helped him win the White House, but could end up benefiting
his opponents as well.
Leaders of the U.S. religious left, a rising force of
opposition to Trump's hard-line stance on immigration and
healthcare, said they were poised to benefit from the move,
which lifts the risk of religious groups losing their tax-exempt
status if they advocate for particular candidates.
"This is going to backfire on Trump," said the Rev. Jennifer
Butler, chief executive of progressive policy group Faith in
Public Life. "We are morally outraged at what is going on and we
are appalled at the weaponization of religion."
The group is planning to mobilize voters who view some of
Trump's policies as immoral. While the group does not endorse
candidates, those voters in the 2018 midterm elections would
back candidates who oppose those policies. Trump's order gives
religious groups more liberty to do so without jeopardizing
"We're going to be mobilizing millions of voters to turn out
at the polls and vote their values," Butler said.
Sojourners, a Washington-based progressive Christian network
that advocates for immigrants and the poor, also believes more
of its members will feel free to speak out against Trump's
policies, following the Thursday signing.
"I wouldn't tell people who to vote for but I would tell
them what to vote against and this might encourage more churches
to speak out against him," said Jim Wallis, the group's founder.
"Donald Trump's use of racism and racial bigotry is unchristian.
His attack on refugees is anti-Christian."
Trump has repeatedly and angrily denied allegations that his
policies are racist, emphasizing that limits on immigration are
essential for national security. The Republican president cited
historically black churches and slain civil-rights leader Martin
Luther King Jr. as important drivers of U.S. social progress
before signing the order.
'SWORD OF DAMOCLES'
Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders as well as a
prominent U.S. rabbi joined Trump when he signed the order
instructing the Internal Revenue Service to "alleviate the
burden of the Johnson Amendment," the 1954 law prohibiting
organizations that have tax-free status, including churches,
from participating in political campaigns or supporting any
The move by Trump, who appealed to religious conservatives
in his 2016 presidential run, was widely praised by religious
organizations that either felt hemmed in by the law or openly
"We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied
or silenced any more," Trump, who criticized the Johnson
Amendment during his campaign, said at the ceremony. Rescinding
the law would require an act of Congress.
Ralph Reed, a longtime leader of the religious right and
chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, praised the move,
saying in a statement that Trump's executive order removed a
"sword of Damocles that has hung over the faith community for
Several prominent leaders of the religious left said it
violated the U.S. separation of church and state. They noted
that neither Republican nor Democratic policy stances lined up
neatly with any major religion's teaching and said the move
could fracture congregations by encouraging their leaders to
The American Civil Liberties Union promised to sue to stop
"Once faith leaders become partisan, it hijacks their moral
authority and their impartiality in this hyper-partisan
environment," said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious
Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said that his group would keep
urging U.S. imams to speak out on moral issues with political
consequences, but would urge them to remain nonpartisan.
He wondered if all religious leaders would follow that
"These kind of moves, particularly by this administration,
have a vast ocean of unintended consequences," he said.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney)