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Why These Black Religious Leaders Want to Keep IRS Restrictions

02-07-2017

Some black religious leaders are speaking out against President Donald Trump's plan to relax restrictions on the political activity of churches.

Trump raised the issue again last week when he used the National Prayer Breakfast to repeat his campaign pledge to "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment.

That's the 1954 law that has blocked church leaders from making official endorsements and political contributions, placing a muzzle on their freedom of speech.

Supporters of the move to overturn the Johnson Amendment say it's time to give pastors the freedom to take strong positions without fear of the IRS stripping their tax-exempt status.

But Rev. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached, doesn't like the idea.

He says ending the law "opens up a can of worms that would undermine the Church's moral authority."

And in South Carolina, Rev. Darrell Jackson, a state senator, says he does not even ask his parishioners to vote for him.

"That's crossing a sacred line," Jackson said.

But Jackson does allow other politicians to come to his Bible Way Church services in Columbia.

Others question whether some churches would be pulled into the campaign finance vortex and be used to funnel "dark money" into partisan politics without disclosing donors.

Still, Warnock said faith and politics must mix at some point.

"You can't advocate for the poor without being political," he said. But he argues there's a difference between pushing policy and backing candidates.

On the other side of the debate, the Rev. Mark Harris, a Trump supporter and senior pastor of Charlotte First Baptist Church in North Carolina, said a repeal would "lift a cloud of confusion" that silences too many pastors.

Meanwhile, the National Congregations Study suggests liberal congregations actually have become more politically active in recent years.

Conservative evangelical congregations, meanwhile, appear to have become less so.

The study tracks activities like hosting political speakers, registering voters and distributing issue-based voter guides.

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