Trump just made the Christian right the most powerful political group in America
Michael Harriot, The Root | 5/6/2017, 8:45 a.m.
Many groups were afraid that Donald Trump’s newly signed executive order would be an attack on LGBT groups and other minorities whose lives and beliefs fall outside of traditional religious thinking.
Even the ACLU exhaled when it saw the actual wording today. Although it has been lost in the butt-hurt wake of the fiasco that is the health care plan, almost no one has mentioned the biggest implication of Trump’s newest executive action:
It will make evangelical Christians the most powerful group in the country.
There are many who say that this executive order doesn’t matter—that a presidential edict can’t rescind an existing law passed by Congress. But that’s not what Trump is trying to do. He is instructing the IRS to ignore the law. Anyone who doesn’t think that can happen should remember that the only reason people who sell weed aren’t arrested in states where marijuana is legal is that the Justice Department has instructed federal agents not to enforce the federal marijuana-prohibition laws in those states. The DREAM Act has never been law—President Barack Obama simply instructed immigration officials to stop deporting certain undocumented immigrants.
The most troublesome part of Trump’s executive order lies in Section 2:
In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure ... that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective ...
As used in this section, the term “adverse action” means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status.
What exactly does this mean?
Churches, nonprofits and religious organizations in the U.S. enjoy tax-exempt status. It’s how T.D. Jakes got his helicopter, Creflo Dollar got his Rolls Royce and Joel Olsteen got his pearly-white teeth. They can bring in millions of dollars and do whatever they want to do with it.
The reason for this is important. If churches or charities had to pay taxes, it would give them undue influence on the government because they become a necessary part of the economy. Let’s suppose a megachurch in a small town wanted ... let’s say ... its own police department. Legislators might be apt to give it one if it paid millions of dollars in taxes.
In exchange for not paying taxes, religious institutions agree to stay out of politics. This is supposed to be a given, but to make sure, in 1954, then-Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson sponsored the Johnson Amendment—which gives the IRS the right to strip organizations of their tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity. It states that 501(c)(3) groups (the tax code for charitable, tax-exempt institutions) “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” If these institutions cross the line, the IRS can revoke their charitable status, costing them millions in taxes.