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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the opening session of the Western Conservative Summit Friday, July 1, 2016, in Denver. The summit, which brings together Republicans from across the West, runs through Sunday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Trump to push repeal of clergy 'gag' law at surprise visit to Orlando evangelical summit



Donald Trump is planning a surprise visit Thursday to a major gathering of evangelical pastors in Florida, where he will describe how he will repeal a federal law viewed by many Christians as gagging the clergy from expressing political viewpoints.

According to Trump's advisors, the Republican presidential nominee will support the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 change to the federal tax code that prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing or advocating the defeat of political candidates.

Free-speech rights vs. tax exemption

Conservative evangelical activists have long sought to repeal the law, arguing it wrongly infringes the free-speech rights of clergy by putting the tax-exempt status of churches in jeopardy if their leader or organization endorses a candidate.

Trump first expressed support for repealing the amendment during his nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland. The amendment is named for former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sponsored the legislation when he was a Senate leader seven decades ago.


Connecting with David Lane

Advisers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich say they believe Trump's support for the repeal will help "galvanize" support in the evangelical Christian community, an essential voter bloc for any Republican seeking to win the White House.

Trump's visit Thursday afternoon to the Pastors & Pews event in Orlando will also connect him for the first time to David Lane, one of the most influential political organizers in the evangelical community. Lane is widely credited for successful get-out-the-vote drives in critical Republican elections like 2004 and 2014.

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Video: Repealing the Johnson Amendment

Moral Majority, Christian Coalition legacy

Lane's organization connects daily with 100,000 Christian pastors, and is training hundreds of clergy to run for political office. The group has been compared to the late Jerry Falwell Sr.'s Moral Majority, or the 1980s Christian Coalition, for its voter mobilization capabilities among evangelicals.

Trump consistently won among evangelical voters during the GOP primaries but has yet to build a significant get-out-the-vote operation. His appearance at Thursday's event could open the door for a major push by Lane to get those voters to the polls.

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