The religious right, with a big boost from President Donald Trump, is close to effectively ending a 63-year-old law banning churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
House Republicans have quietly inserted into a spending bill a provision that limits the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to investigate religious organizations for violating the law.
Since 1954, under a provision championed by Lyndon Johnson, then a U.S. senator who would go on to become president in 1963, non-profits, including churches, universities and foundations can lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in overt political activity.
The Johnson amendment has been particularly irksome to conservative religious movements, who have been gaining clout since the late 1970s.
The Moral Majority, which was an important political force in the late 1970s and 1980s, was co-founded by Jerry Falwell, a Baptist minister. In 1988, Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, sought the Republican presidential nomination. Republican White House hopefuls have for years eagerly courted the evangelical vote. Clergy are permitted to preach on issues of concern and churches can issue voter guides that offer views on issues.