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President Trump vows to ‘destroy’ Johnson Amendment

President Donald J. Trump attends the National Prayer

President Donald J. Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. At the event, he vowed to "totally destroy" a provision barring religious groups from participation in politics. Credit: EPA / WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES / POOL

President Donald Trump vowed Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. to “totally destroy” a tax-code provision that keeps politics away 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,” he said. “I will do that. Remember.”

Trump’s remarks came on a whirlwind day during which his administration also sought to clarify where it stands with several foreign governments.

In the morning, the president reiterated on Twitter that the United States has put Iran “on notice” for testing its ballistic missile. He has not specified what he would do in response.

“Nothing is off the table,” Trump said later in the day when asked about possible military action.

“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile,” he had posted, adding a reference to the 2015 agreement restricting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions. “Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”

An adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said threats from Washington are “useless,” according to Reuters. “This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran,” Ali Akbar Velayati said without elaborating. “ . . . The American government will understand that threatening Iran is useless.”

A repeal of the Johnson Amendment — under which houses of worship and charitable groups risk losing their tax-exempt status if they endorse or oppose political candidates — would be in line with Trump’s campaign pledge to uphold religious liberties.

The 1954 tax-code change was championed by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) and approved by a GOP-controlled Congress. Its removal would require congressional action.

Opponents of the amendment, including religious conservatives, argue it violates First Amendment rights.

Trump said freedom of religion is “under threat all around us.”

But others defended the Johnson Amendment’s decades-old role in separating church and state.

“Politicizing churches does them no favors,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C. “The promised repeal is an attack on the integrity of both our charitable organizations and campaign finance system.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, also based in the capital, noted that the IRS rule applies to nonprofits such as the Red Cross as well as religious organizations.

“If these groups could engage in partisan politics, the government would be subsidizing partisan politicking with citizens’ tax dollars,” he said.

The White House also faced questions over why the Treasury Department is allowing some companies to conduct limited business with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or the FSB, despite sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama for Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

“It’s a fairly common practice for the Treasury Department — after sanctions are put in place — to go back and look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for different industries or products or services,” Spicer told reporters, calling it part of a “regular course of action.”

Asked about it at his meeting with Harley-Davidson executives, Trump said, “I haven’t eased anything.”

Trump told the Harley Davidson executives that he was looking at “re-doing” the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he says has been a “catastrophe for our county, according to the Associated Press.

The president is scheduled to spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

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