Trump’s Executive Order Undermines the Integrity of Nonprofits

2017-05-05 | Alliance for Children and Families

The Executive Order on “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” aimed at making it easier for churches to participate in politics, was signed by President Trump Thursday night. The House Oversight Committee also held a hearing on the executive order the same day.

The drive for an executive order to address free speech in religion mainly comes from religious groups that claim their freedom of expression has long been stifled. They argue that censoring the content of a preacher’s sermon is a freedom of speech issue, and that places of worship should have the right to speak freely on all matters of life, including candidates and elections, without fearing IRS censorship or punishment by way of losing tax exempt status.

However, all charitable nonprofits, including religious organizations, are already free to speak on important matters of the day and advocate on public policy issues and legislation. As the National Council of Nonprofits writes in their response statement to the executive order, “With the stroke of a pen, the President has unleashed the polarizing rancor of partisan electioneering on charitable nonprofits, religious institutions, and private foundations and the people and communities they serve. Despite the labeling, the portion of the Executive Order regarding the Johnson Amendment has nothing to do with free speech or freedom of religion. And, contrary to President Trump’s assertions at the signing ceremony, the Johnson Amendment has nothing to do with talking about policy issues of the day – it only prevents 501(c)(3) organizations from partisan electioneering by participating in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

Not all religious leaders are in support of this executive order. Many clergy members say they do not want to endorse political candidates from the pulpit because it could split their congregations and distract from their religious messages.

For the nonprofit community, this executive order will undermine our integrity and community trust, as there will be questions into a nonprofit organization’s political motives. As the National Council of Nonprofits explains, “people looking to 501(c)(3) organizations for services, whether it is a warm meal, a roof over their head, inspiration through the arts, or counsel from a religious leader, should not have to consider which candidates those leaders might urge them to support or oppose. The same goes for people who wish to donate, volunteer, or work to support a nonprofit’s mission.”

The Alliance has joined in leadership with the National Council of Nonprofits and Independent Sector to ensure that nonprofit organizations remain separate from political electioneering. We will keep you up to date on the latest and ask that you join us in important actions to block this executive order and pending legislation to weaken the Johnson Amendment.


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