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Hours before President Trump is scheduled to speak before thousands of supporters at a South Florida megachurch, faith leaders spoke out on how the president’s behavior and policies are losing him support with the religious community.
- President Trump won the evangelical vote by 65 percent in 2016
- Democrats say president has "broken his promise" to faith voters
- There are questions about whether the church hosting tonight's event is doing so in violation of IRS law
“Whether it’s his immigration policies, whether it’s his extraordinary effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act, whether it’s his policies which tend to be much more favored towards the wealthy and well-connected than to those who have fallen through the cracks, to the millions of people in Florida who don’t have health insurance and are living in poverty, that’s not probably going to be talked about today in the church. But that is what is supposed to be talked about today in the church,” said Chris King, a Winter Park businessman and Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.
King was one of three people who spoke to reporters on a conference call organized by the Florida Democratic Party Friday morning.
Friday night’s event, called “Evangelicals for Trump,” will take place at King Jesus International Ministry located in the Miami suburb of West Kendall, and is believed to be one of the largest Hispanic congregations in the country, regularly drawing thousands to its services, according to the Miami Herald. It was announced by the Trump campaign shortly after a Christian magazine called for the president to be removed from office.
Trump overwhelmingly won the backing of evangelical Christians in the 2016 presidential election, getting 81 percent of that electorate vs. just 16 percent for Hillary Clinton, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. The Trump campaign says that they can gain even more of that vote this year.
“There are plenty of evangelical Americans who maybe didn’t support President Trump in the last election because they didn’t believe he was a true ally, but who are now taking a second look at him because of his record,” an anonymous Trump campaign adviser told POLITICO.
There are groups on the left trying to persuade evangelicals to oppose Trump.
Doug Pagitt is executive director with Vote Common Good.
“We have recognized that voters all across the country and especially in Florida are really shaken by the fact that they have a commitment to certain issues. For many of them, they are issues that have aligned with the Republican Party,” said Pagitt on the conference call. “But they also recognize the behavior and the policies of the Trump administration no longer allow them to maintain their affiliation with their faith, and with this administration.”
The Florida Democratic Party publicly released an open letter signed by more than a dozen Christian faith leaders on Friday denouncing the president for what they said were his “broken promises” to voters.
“Mr. President, you espouse the words of Christian values, but your policies and your behavior do reflect that,” a section of the letter reads. “There is absolutely nothing good or virtuous about tearing immigrant families apart, cutting programs for the poor while giving hundreds of millions of tax cuts to the wealthiest among us, or threatening to take away healthcare from those with preexisting conditions – all of which are lynchpins of your agenda.”
There has been some controversy about whether the church is violating federal tax rules by participating in a political campaign.
Internal Revenue Service rules exempt charities, including churches, from federal taxes provided they do "not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-partisan group that advocates for the separation of church and state, issued a letter to the IRS earlier this week claiming that this event is against the law.
The King Jesus International Ministry is attempting to address that with a statement on their website:
"King Jesus International Ministry is a non-partisan, non-political church. Our ministry does not endorse any political candidates or engage in political campaigns. It is a religious organization that ministers to the community. While we advocate for issues we care deeply about, such as family and respect for life, we do not take positions in political campaigns. The January 3 Evangelicals for Trump event is being paid for and organized by President Trump’s election campaign. We agreed to lease space in exchange for fair compensation. No church resources are being used and our agreement to provide rental space is not an endorsement of President Trump’s campaign or any political party."