Trump vows to 'totally destroy' law on religion and politics

US president pledges to ‘destroy’ law preventing political activity by churches

Donald Trump took a swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger when speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. The Terminator actor responded on social media with a video of his own. Video: CSPAN

 

US president Donald Trump has pledged to “totally destroy” a decades-old law that prevents churches from getting involved in political campaigns.

Any move to weaken one of the key legal provisions in the United States separating religion from politics, which Mr Trump had criticised during his campaign for the presidency, would be a huge victory for the religious right.

Religious leaders have long complained that the Johnson Amendment, which bans churches from engaging in political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status, restricts their free speech.

“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and openly without fear of retribution,” Mr Trump said at a National Prayer Breakfast, referring to the 1954 measure pushed by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson. “I will do that. Remember.”

Mr Trump would need an act of Congress to repeal the law.

In keeping with the chaotic and contentious opening to his presidency, Mr Trump used his address to religious leaders yesterday to dismiss concerns about his abrupt phone calls with foreign leaders, defend his immigrant travel ban and mock Arnold Schwarzenegger for his poor ratings since replacing Mr Trump on The Apprentice, a reality TV show.

Immigrant ban

“We will not allow a beach-head of intolerance to spread in our nation,” the president said.

Relations between the United States and Australia were under severe strain, meanwhile, after it emerged Mr Trump had cut short an acrimonious phone call with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday.

Potentially far more damaging were claims that the Trump administration had rushed into a botched commando raid targeting al-Qaeda in Yemen last weekend.

US military officials quoted by Reuters claimed Mr Trump approved the covert operation, in which one US commando was killed, without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate back-up preparations.

The claims were rejected by White House spokesman Sean Spicer.