By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump is expected to take executive action on Thursday to effectively lift a ban on political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions, a senior White House official said on Wednesday.
Trump will mark the National Day of Prayer by issuing guidance to federal agencies like the Treasury Department on how to interpret a law that says churches and religious organizations risk losing their tax-exempt status if they participate in political campaigns.
The order is expected to give the Treasury Department guidance on how strictly to enforce the 1954 law known as the Johnson Amendment, the White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as details of the action were still being worked out.
Trump frequently complained about the amendment during his campaign for the presidency, bolstering his support among religious conservatives who contend it violates free speech and religious freedom rights.
Changing the law altogether would require action in the Republican-led U.S. Congress.
Civil liberties and gay rights groups fear Trump's order could include provisions to allow government agencies and businesses to deny services to gay people in the name of religious freedom. The groups have argued that such a move would be unconstitutional.
It was not clear on Wednesday whether the order would include that type of measure, the official said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Andrew Hay)