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Hidden in the GOP’s tax bill is a provision letting right-wing pastors tell people who to vote for

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Tucked inside the enormous House tax proposal is a provision that would roll back a 63-year-old ban on tax-exempt organizations — including churches — from making explicit political endorsements. In 1954, then-Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson proposed the amendment to section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code after a brutal campaign during which a tax-exempt group ran advertisements labeling him a communist. With its passage, Johnson hoped to quiet his opponents. But in decades since, the ban has drawn a bright line between pulpits and political podiums, validating one of this country’s founding principles: the separation of church and state.

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But though House Republicans are threatening to use their tax plan to upend the rule, the Senate version does not contain the change — so its final passage is far from guaranteed.

Donald Trump promised religious leaders at the National Prayer breakfast in February that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

Last spring, Trump signed an executive order directing the Treasury Department not to penalize individuals or congregations who advocate politically from a religious perspective. But since it stopped short of overturning the part of the amendment that prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing specific political candidates, it failed to truly eliminate the rule. Doing so requires Congress to change the tax code.

If the tax plan passes, it would allow churches and charities to raise money for political candidates, and create a workaround for campaign disclosure rules.

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Motivation to change the rule appears to be political. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report on religious liberty issues:

  • More than 7 in 10 (71 percent) Americans oppose allowing churches and places of worship to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status, compared to only 22 percent who favor such a policy.
  • Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to favor allowing churches to endorse candidates (34 percent versus 16 percent, respectively).
  • Strong majorities of Republicans (62 percent) and Democrats (78 percent) reject this idea.

All major religious groups in the country oppose allowing churches to endorse candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status:

  • Only about one-third (36 percent) of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to a majority (56 percent) who oppose it.
  • Even fewer white mainline Protestants (23 percent), Catholics (25 percent), black Protestants (19 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (12 percent) support churches endorsing political candidates.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization which works to maintain separation between church and state, said:

This tax bill will deform, not reform, the tax law that protects our houses of worship … Gutting the law that protects 501(c)(3) (tax-exempt not-for-profit) organizations from candidates pressing for endorsements threatens to destroy our congregations from within over disagreements on partisan campaigns … Pastors and people of faith know that there’s nothing free about a pulpit that is bought and paid for by political campaign donations or beholden to partisan interests.

For all the fiery rhetoric, since the Johnson law took effect in 1954 only one case is known to have been brought against a church: During the 1992 campaign, when the the Branch Ministries Church in New York bought newspaper advertisements urging Christians not to vote for Bill Clinton.

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WATCH: Lewandowski’s lawyer freaks out, tries to block Congress from asking any further questions

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During the House Judiciary Committee testimony of President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski about the Russia investigation, Lewandowski's attorney frantically crashed the witness table and demanded that Congress stop asking questions of his client.

"Mister Chairman, as you know I am counsel for Mr. Lewandowski—" began the attorney.

"You are not a witness and you should not be seated at that table," cut in House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) sharply.

"I understand that," said Lewandowski's attorney. "I will leave after I register a formal protest based upon the debate that I heard. These seem to be unauthorized questions and I know you choose your words carefully—"

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Lewandowski’s testimony will let Democrats build Nixon-like articles of impeachment: Ex-prosecutor

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As President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski combatively testified before the House Judiciary Committee, he admitted that Trump asked him to communicate to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation must be shut down. Aside from that revelation, most of the testimony was unproductive, with Lewandowski lashing out at members of Congress and running interference for the president.

But as former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote on Twitter, these outbursts — and the fact that Trump sanctioned the way that Lewandowski behaved in the hearing — could be the basis for Democrats to write up articles of impeachment against Trump similar to those drafted against Richard Nixon in 1974:

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Putin aims a weaponized barb at Trump over Saudi attack – and hits the mark

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Russian President Vladimir Putin joked this week about selling defense systems to Riyadh following weekend attacks on Saudi oil facilities. The gag was aimed at US President Donald Trump and it hit the mark with the precision of a guided weapon.

It was a masterful piece of trolling by the czar of trolls – a snide, disparaging jibe with an element of truth twisted into absurdity for maximum effect and laughs. At a joint press conference with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts in Ankara on Monday, Putin cast his bait into the volatile Persian Gulf region just days after devastating attacks on Saudi oil facilities exposed the limits of the Gulf kingdom’s expensive defense systems.

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