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Fresno pastor applauds President Trump's proposed end to Johnson Amendment

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The Johnson Amendment draws a line in a collision between the constitution's protection of religious expression and its separation of church and state. (KFSN)

From the pulpit, Cornerstone Church pastor Jim Franklin can put out political fires.

"We've got to be people that will extinguish the flames," he told his congregation to applause.

But he can't tell his Downtown Fresno congregation which candidate he supports because a 60-year-old law prevents it.

"They cannot openly endorse a political candidate for office," legal analyst Tony Capozzi said.

Capozzi said the Johnson Amendment draws a line in a collision between the constitution's protection of religious expression and its separation of church and state. But President Trump is promising to destroy LBJ's 1954 law.

"Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us," Trump said earlier this year.

Capozzi says congress passed the law and only congress can overturn it, but the President can turn it into a paper tiger since he appoints the IRS administrator and he can pick one who won't enforce the law.

"It would be questionable as to whether or not they would do it," he said. "If he refuses to do that and this is repeatedly violated, I think you'll see some litigation on this."

The amendment prompted lawsuits in the 1990s when a New York church bought newspaper ads telling Christians to vote against Bill Clinton. The IRS investigated, revoked the church's tax-exempt status and a federal court upheld the decision.

And Capozzi says the money could be an issue since churches can take tax deductible donations and then make political contributions without reporting where the money goes.

But Pastor Franklin has fought the law for years and he's not afraid to talk about politicians he likes, even challenging the IRS on it by sending them his sermons preaching about candidates.

"We are so thankful we now have a President who recognizes our religious rights are under attack, and this is one of the biggest ways it has been," he said. "That they've tried to silence the pulpit, so we applaud President Trump for putting things back the way they should've been."

So far, the IRS has taken no action against Franklin or any other pastors who've done the same thing.

Related Topics:
u.s. & worldfresnodonald trumpreligionFresno
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