House Republicans released a tax plan on Nov. 2 that included a provision that would partially remove a 63-year-old prohibition on churches becoming involved in political campaigns.
The so-called Johnson Amendment stops churches from supporting a political candidate during a sermon or religious service and prevents churches from financially backing candidates, according to The Hill.
Under current law, the IRS can remove a church's tax free status if it deems the religious institution has engaged in political lobbying. However, according to The Washington Post, the IRS has "almost never" punished a member of the clergy for the contents of a sermon.
The proposed modification would allow ministers to endorse candidates, but does not go as far as permitting churches to provide them with financial assistance.
The policy change has long been backed by President Donald Trump, who declared during the presidential campaign that repealing the Johnson Amendment would "give ... churches their voice back," The Hill reports.
Trump also suggested after entering the White House that he would "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment.
Around 4,000 religious officials addressed a letter to Trump in August appealing for the retention of the Johnson Amendment. They noted that abolishing it could damage the reputation of houses of worship, "which are not identified or divided by partisan lines."
Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, agreed.
"The House GOP leadership and President Trump want to turn America's houses of worship into centers of partisan politics," Lynn wrote to the Post. "It's a reckless scheme that may please Trump’s allies in the religious right, but could spark a blowback since the vast majority of Americans, faith leaders and houses of worship are firmly opposed to it. This is a bad idea that should be immediately dropped."
In addition to the measure on churches, the $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts would reduce corporate tax rates and bring modest savings for middle class earners, according to The New York Times.
"With this plan, we are making pro-growth reforms, so that yes, America can compete with the rest of the world," said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, according to the Times.
Criticism of the Republican proposal came thick and fast, including from Democrats, business groups and even some Republicans from high-tax states who said changes would have to be made to the bill.
"Contrary to their assertions, the Republicans are picking winners and losers," Jerry Howard, the CEO of the National Association of Homebuilders, told the Times. "They are picking rich Americans and corporations over small businesses and the middle class."
Republicans aim to have the bill passed in Congress in time for Trump to sign it into law by the end of the year.