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Republicans press to allow political activity by churches

President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to Bethel United Methodist Church while campaigning (AP/Evan Vucci)

House Republicans Thursday unveiled a plan that would allow churches to conduct some political activity.

The Free Speech Fairness Act, introduced by GOP Reps. Jody Hice (Ga.) and Steve Scales (La.), would allow for churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations such as educational institutions and nonprofits to conduct political activity as long as it's within the realm of the "ordinary course of the organization's regular and customary activities in carrying out its tax-empt purpose."

The bill also requires expenditures to be minimal.

"As a minister who has experienced intimidation from the IRS firsthand, I know just how important it is to ensure that our churches and nonprofit organizations are allowed the same fundamental rights as every citizen in this great nation," Hice said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has promised to repeal and "destroy" the Johnson Amendment — the 1954 law that prohibits religious organizations from keeping a tax-exempt status if they "directly or indirectly" participate in a political campaign.

"For too long, the IRS has used the Johnson Amendment to silence and threaten religious institutions and charitable entities," Hice said. "I am heartened that President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to repealing Johnson at" Thursday's annual National Prayer Breakfast.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump promised a group of conservative Christians in New York City in June that he would tackle the amendment.

"I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions — is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it," Trump said then. "You don’t have any religious freedom, if you think about it."

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced a companion legislation in the Senate.

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