Cincinnati religious leaders react to Trump's desire to destroy Johnson Amendment

Posted at 9:24 PM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 21:27:27-05

CINCINNATI - Pastors endorsing candidates from the podium has been banned for over 50 years since the Johnson Amendment went into law. But it won't stay that way for much longer if President Trump has his way.

Pastor Damon Lynch Jr.

Trump vowed to "destroy" the law during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. And Pastor Damon Lynch Jr. of New Jerusalem Baptist Church thinks he knows why.

"I think he wants to broaden it because there are a lot of conservative preachers and conservative people who voted for him, and I think it's probably in his best interest to get that situation reduced," Lynch said.

The Johnson Amendment is a 1954 law that prohibits preachers from endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit. If they do, the church could lose its tax exempt status.

When he's in the pulpit, Pastor Lynch says he keeps his political views to himself.

"Because there are people in my congregation who are Republican and Democrat and independent,  so therefore we deal with political education," he said.  "We tell them how to vote, when to vote, but we never tell them from the pulpit who to vote for."

The President's intentions fulfill a campaign vow and appeals to the religious right. But Dan Schneider of the First Unitarian Church says that's a bad idea.

"Like many churches, we look to unite people and not divide them, and I think dividing people according to what political candidate you're going to support is not a good thing," Schneider  said.

For Schneider, there's another issue at work here.

"We have a separation of church and state in this country that we adhere to and we think it's important to be who we are and not be involved in partisan politics. It's just a mistake," he said.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati relies on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' guidelines prohibiting endorsements. Likewise, Crossroads Community Church doesn't endorse or oppose political candidates.

Changing the Johnson Amendment would require an act of Congress.