Trump vows to reverse ban on political campaigning by churches

US president says he will allow pastors ‘to speak freely and without fear of retribution’

 Donald Trump attending a church service, in Detroit, Michigan during the Republican  nomination campaign last September. Photograph:  Reuters/Carlo Allegri

Donald Trump attending a church service, in Detroit, Michigan during the Republican nomination campaign last September. Photograph: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

 

US President Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the Johnson Amendment, an rule under the American tax code which bars pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit.

“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Mr Trump said during remarks at the national prayer breakfast, a high-profile event bringing together faith leaders, politicians and dignitaries.

Mr Trump made a similar pledge as a candidate but has not detailed how he plans to scrap the rule or how quickly he will proceed in doing do.

Religious conservatives whose overwhelming support propelled Mr Trump to the White House have been watching closely for him to deliver on promised protections for religious objectors to gay marriage and abortion.

Kelly Shackelford, head of First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal group that specialises in religious freedom cases, said no other presidential candidate was “more outspoken on their commitment to religious freedom” than Mr Trump.

The president made no mention at the prayer breakfast of other steps he may take on those issues, saying only that religious freedom was a “sacred right”.

He used his remarks to thank the American people for their prayers in his opening days in office.

He also took a dig at Arnold Schwarzenegger, new host of The Apprentice, the reality TV show Mr Trump previously headlined.

The US president said that since Mr Schwarzenegger took over, the show’s rating have been down and asked the audience to “pray for Arnold”.

While the president’s comments were likely to be warmly received by religious groups, LGBTQ groups are anxious the president could use his executive powers to curb rights.

“We think it is entirely possible there could be an executive order that creates religious exemptions,” said James Esseks, LGBT project director for the American Civil Liberties Union

He added that the “narrative” that Mr Trump will not harm the LGBTQ community was “not correct”.

- AP