More than other groups surveyed, black Protestant churchgoers have heard political messages from clergy in their place of worship, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center.
That group is equally likely to hear religious leaders speak in support of a candidate as against one: Twenty-eight percent had heard messages supportive of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and just 2 percent said they heard positive messages about Republican nominee Donald Trump. Twenty percent of black Protestants reported hearing negative messages about Trump, while 7 percent said they heard the same of Clinton.
Of all religious groups surveyed, only 9 percent reported hearing clergy speaking in favor of a particular candidate, while 11 percent said they’d heard talk against a candidate.
While the plurality of those questioned in the survey of churchgoers about political speech and issues in their religious community say such talk is the exception (49 percent), evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics all report hearing clergy discuss such things occasionally.
U.S. tax law, which provides exemptions for religious institutions, prohibits churches from favoring one candidate over another. Clergy are allowed to discuss political issues, but endorsement of any candidate jeopardizes a congregation’s tax-exempt status.
Among adults who have attended religious services in the past few months, 32 percent of people had heard a defense of religious liberty from the pulpit. White evangelical Protestants are the most likely to report hearing such messages, at 52 percent. Thirty-eight percent of Catholic churchgoers, 32 percent of black Protestants and 31 percent of white mainline Protestants say they’ve heard messages about religious liberty.
Were he elected, Trump has promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment that prevents political speech from the pulpit. Though Trump is not overtly religious as many in his party, many evangelicals object to the ban on political speech in churches, considered to be a prime place for organizing on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Those issues were also commonly mentioned in houses of worship, the Pew survey found. Twenty-two percent reported hearing messages against abortion and 20 percent against homosexuality. Only 3 percent heard talk in support of abortion rights and 12 percent said their church had urged acceptance of homosexuality.
Trump spoke Thursday at a private gathering in Orlando of one national group seeking to train pastors to run for office. He told the crowd that if he were elected and the Johnson Amendment were removed, church attendance would increase. The Republican candidate also urged the evangelical crowd to get their congregations out to vote.
“You have to get the people in your churches. You have to get them to go out and vote,” Trump said. “Whether you have bus drives, do whatever you have to do.”