President Trump has recently signed an executive order lessening the terms of the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the US tax code that rescinds the tax-exempt status of churches and other 501(c) groups if said groups openly support a political candidate.
The amendment was proposed by then Texas senator Lyndon B. Johnson in 1954, and has existed in the tax code without modification since. President Trump repeatedly criticized the amendment as a threat to religious freedom throughout his campaign and tenure as president, most recently stating that he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment while at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2nd.
While the Johnson Amendment prohibits all 501(c) organizations from openly endorsing or opposing political candidates (this includes universities and nonprofit groups like charities), President Trump’s revision would rescind a few of the restrictions against faith-based groups like churches.
Many LGBT groups have seen the order as a danger to their civil rights, with many groups holding protests outside of the White House. In addition, the ACLU has stated that it will sue should the order come into effect. Also, a group of 1,300+ religious leaders from across the country have grouped up to petition the Trump administration to cancel the order, stating that it would “hurt the civil rights of those in the LGBT community.”
The wording of the executive order is vague, and many of these groups claim that its terms could be misconstrued in such a way that certain religious groups can openly lobby for political action, and that some of this action may be against LGBT people.
President Trump, as well as other supporters of the order, state that in effect religious groups would simply gain the right to exercise their First Amendment rights as it pertains to politics. For example, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 501(c) group, faced huge fines last year for not funding contraceptives for its employees in accordance with Obamacare. The White House uses examples like this and others to support the notion that the executive order would simply give more rights to religious groups, although many civil rights organizations and LGBT groups see it as harmful.
Regardless, an executive order is simply a directive given to the applicable department. There’s no direct answer as to how long it will take before a bill like this goes into effect, if ever. They’re supposed to go into effect thirty days after signing, but sometimes if an agency holds different views to that of the president, bureaucracies can get in the way.