Mormon church ‘remains committed to political neutrality’ in wake of Trump’s executive order

President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Rose Garden of the of the White House, asking the IRS to use "maximum enforcement discretion" over the regulation, known as Johnson Amendment, which applies to churches and nonprofits, Washington, D.C., May 4, 2017 | AP Photo/Evan Vucci, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday aimed at weakening federal enforcement preventing churches and religiously affiliated, tax-exempt groups from getting too political.

Trump marked the National Day of Prayer at the White House by signing the “Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” asking the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” over a rarely enforced regulation known as the Johnson Amendment.

President Donald Trump gestures in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., before signing an executive order aimed at easing an IRS rule limiting political activity for churches, Washington, D.C., May 4, 2017 | AP Photo/Evan Vucci, St. George News

“This financial threat against the faith community is over,” Trump said. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”

While the executive order aims to weaken enforcement of the policy barring churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates, it also promises “regulatory relief” for groups with religious objections to the preventive services requirement in the Affordable Care Act, according to a White House official.

Those requirements include covering birth control and could apply to religious groups that object to paying for contraception.

In Utah, where a majority of the elected legislators are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an emailed statement Thursday that the church plans to remain politically neutral.

“We are always grateful for the efforts of leaders to safeguard religious freedom and protect the beliefs and religious exercise of all people,” Hawkins said in the email. “As an institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been and remains committed to political neutrality. Today’s executive order will not affect that longstanding policy.”

Under the church’s stance of neutrality, it does not endorse political candidates, parties or platforms, or tell church members who they should support or what their party affiliation should be.

Use of church facilities for partisan political purposes is also forbidden.

However, the church does encourage its members to be politically active in their communities and support whichever platforms or candidates they feel best represents them.

Like other religious institutions and affiliated groups, however, the church reserves “the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the church.”

Recent examples of this have been the church’s stances on pending votes regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana and assisted suicide in certain states last year.

However, the church’s influence, direct and otherwise, has also been felt in matters of Utah politics in regards to medicinal marijuana, LGBT equality and alcohol policy.

In an interview with Fox 13 news, Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he is worried the executive order is a step toward the integration of church and state. Like the majority of Utah lawmakers, King is also Mormon.

“I’ve got colleagues up here in the House of Representatives that believe there ought to be closer integration of church and state and when I say church, I mean LDS church here in the state of Utah,” he told Fox 13’s Ben Winslow. “I think that’s a problem. To the extent we go down that road, I think it’s unwise. I think it’s bad public policy.”

The amendment Trump’s executive order seemingly challenges, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, was put into force in 1954. The policy allows a wide range of advocacy on political issues, but in the case of houses of worship, it bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit.

The IRS does not make public its investigations of such cases, but only one church is known to have lost its tax-exempt status as a result of the prohibition.

The order did not match a broader, much more detailed draft leaked earlier this year that included provisions on conscience protection for faith-based ministries, schools and federal workers across an array of agencies.

Robin Fretwell Wilson, a legal scholar who advises legislators on balancing LGBT rights and religious liberty, told The Associated Press the language in the document was so vague, it was unclear what impact it would have.

That vaguery ultimately led to the American Civil Liberties Union dropping its original threat to sue Trump over the executive order.

“Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome,” said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director. “After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process. The order portends but does not yet do harm to the provision of reproductive health services.”

The ACLU of Utah had its own thoughts on the executive order that were shared over Twitter.

While Trump’s action on the Johnson Amendment aims to please religious conservatives, not all of them are on board.

In a February survey of evangelical leaders conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents churches from about 40 denominations, 89 percent said pastors should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Nearly 100 clergy and faith leaders from across a range of denominations sent a letter last month to congressional leaders urging them to uphold the regulation. They said the IRS rule protects houses of worship and religious groups from political pressure.

Associated Press reporters CATHERINE LUCEY and RACHEL ZOLL contributed to this story.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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16 Comments

  • ladybugavenger May 5, 2017 at 8:35 am

    I don’t know what the Mormon church means by “remains committed to political neutralality”

    are the talking about not endorsing a President?

    The Mormon church waivers on their beliefs based on politics and popularity.

    • AnotherReader May 5, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      @ladybug, you seem to know very little about the LDS Church if you think they waiver on beliefs based on politics and popularity. It is exactly because they don’t waiver that everyone seems so upset at them. There are liberals who do not like their stance on marriage; there are conservatives who do not like their stance on immigration reform. So be it. They stand by their moral principles, which is exactly what a church ought to do. They stand up and speak out when they feel those principles are trampled upon. You are correct, they do not and will not endorse a party or president. But they will stand for their beliefs.

      • comments May 6, 2017 at 11:06 am

        Total BS. The Mormon church/corporation waivers on their beliefs and policies based on what will bring in the most cash. It’s a corporation and money making venture first and foremost, and being a church (or cult?) is their secondary priority. I don’t know if the old men who run it publicly came out and endorsed Mittens Romney, but let’s be real–they didn’t have to. Any they’re sneaky. They know how to keep the dirty work behind the scenes.

  • theone May 5, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Hahahaha political neutrality my keister. The morman Church has sunk it’s teeth in to more political menacing it’s hard to swallow any concept of truth from them.
    If there were such thing as lucifer, the mormon church is lead by it.

  • comments May 5, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    The mormon LDS apparatus is one of the most powerful religious political entities in the nation, if not the most powerful religious political entity. For them to claim they’re neutral on anything is total BS. They’ve had a stranglehold on politics in this state since its inception. They catholics used to be far and away the most powerful, but have since been by the pedophile scandals and inability to retain younger members. The mormon LDS apparatus, I think, is the most powerful political weapon when compared to any other religious group–think Mitt “Mittens” Romney. The mormon LDS power apparatus is in no danger of being “declawed” any time soon.

    • comments May 5, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      correction:
      *The catholics used to be far and away the most powerful, but have since been “declawed” by the pedophile scandals and inability to retain younger members

  • hiker75 May 5, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Since they are so involved in politics, I think it is time they start paying taxes.

  • old school May 5, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    Political manipulation has always been a cornerstone of the church, if Joseph Smith hadn’t been murdered he probably would have had a good shot at the White House

  • Rainbow Dash May 5, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Wow. What a crock. The Mormon cult has never been “politcally neutral” about anything. Here’s just as few examples of the Mormon’s ‘political neutrality’

    Here’s their opinion on:

    Marijuana and Physician Assisted Suicide: https://www.lds.org/church/news/first-presidency-asks-members-to-oppose-recreational-marijuana-assisted-suicide?lang=eng

    abortion: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/official-statement/abortion

    Immigration: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/immigration-church-issues-new-statement

    Women’s rights:https://www.lds.org/ensign/1980/03/the-church-and-the-proposed-equal-rights-amendment-a-moral-issue?lang=eng

    Gay rights: https://www.lds.org/church/news/church-leaders-counsel-members-after-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-decision?lang=eng
    The Prop 8 letter:http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/california-and-same-sex-marriage
    Children of gay parents (the few who wish to attend cult meetings): https://www.lds.org/church/news/treat-children-with-utmost-respect-and-love-writes-the-first-presidency-in-letter-regarding-same-sex-marriage-policy?lang=eng

    The children of gay parents thing is especially terrible because they are quite literally PUNISHING THE KIDS for the actions of their parents.

    ….. The list goes on and on and back and back and back.

    • ladybugavenger May 6, 2017 at 9:52 am

      RD it’s a blessing to the people that they don’t let in to their cult. They don’t need to join a cult.

      • ladybugavenger May 6, 2017 at 10:03 am

        Don’t worry LDSers, there are lots and lots and lots of cults out in the world, you’re not alone.

    • comments May 6, 2017 at 11:10 am

      Yep, any claim of politcal neutrality by LDS inc. is absurd

    • AnotherReader May 6, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      Let’s see @Rainbowash, moral issue, moral issue, moral issue, moral issue. All within their prerogative as a Church. The fact that you may or may not be amoral, doesn’t mean that the LDS Church should not speak out on issues that are important to them. That political parties make these same issue political is of no consequence. The Church will speak on moral issues as it deems appropriate. And your thinking that the “gay parents” thing is about punishment is absurd. It is about conflicting values. And let me ask, just how big is the line of gay parents wanting to have their children baptized into a church that teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman? You are making an issue of something that is not an issue.

  • Rainbow Dash May 7, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    @AnotherReader, It’s clear that you have bought in to Tom Monsons line of BS hook, line and sinker.
    Have you ever noticed that your cult only speaks out on ‘moral issues’ when that particular issue is also up for a vote?

    “….just how big is the line of gay parents wanting to have their children baptized into a church that teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman?” Obviously it’s big enough that Tom Monson -oops I mean “God”- felt the need to share his opinion.

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