COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump believes churches should not lose their tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity, telling the Christian Broadcasting Network that he believes more faith leaders would endorse him if they didn't feel threatened.
“I know people who want to endorse me, but they’re afraid to endorse anybody because they don’t want to get political. So essentially, they’ve taken a lot of the power away from the church,” Trump told CBN's “Brody File” in an interview published Thursday.
“I see churches where they’re afraid to be outspoken because they don’t want to lose their tax-exempt status, and I realize that is one of the problems,” he said. “I want to give power back to the church because the church has to have more power. Christianity is really being chopped; little by little it’s being taken away."
Trump has heavily courted Christian evangelicals and social conservative voters in the election season. He sought to shore up their support in early voting Iowa last month by announcing the endorsement of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the prominent televangelist. The two campaigned together across the Hawkeye State in late January.
The billionaire ultimately took second place in the Iowa caucuses, after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who also courted social conservatives. But Trump has continued his outreach to faith voters here in South Carolina, regularly talking in speeches about what he sees as fraying religious liberties.
Cruz leads Trump on social issues among likely GOP voters in South Carolina, according to a poll by CNN-ORC International released Tuesday. When asked who they believe would best represent their views on same-sex marriage and abortion, 28 percent said Cruz, compared with 21 percent who said Trump. But Trump is favored to win Saturday's South Carolina primary, and some recent polls have shown the mogul leading among evangelical voters. The CNN poll showed him beating Cruz among white evangelical voters, taking 42 percent support against Cruz's 23 percent.
Asked about same-sex marriage by David Brody, Trump said he supports defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. He added that he strongly supported a state-by-state approach before the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage with its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.
Trump also said that he believes Roe v. Wade was incorrectly decided, saying that the opinion could be “unpassed” with the right judges on the Supreme Court. He was careful not to indicate that he would be able to change that as president, clarifying that the court’s current ideological orientation does not favor such a dramatic change.
“It’s been very strongly decided, but it can be changed. Things are put there and they’re passed, but they can be unpassed with time. But it’s going to take time because you have a lot of judges to go,” he said.
Trump added that he would support legislation to defund Planned Parenthood as president. That issue was put front and center Saturday night during the GOP presidential debate in Greenville, S.C., where Cruz accused the candidate of supporting abortion. Trump dismissed that accusation and said he is against abortion.
“As long as they do the abortion, I am not for funding Planned Parenthood,” Trump said.
But he also added that the organization does important work for women's health, a position he took on stage during Saturday's debate as well.
“They do other good work. You look at cervical cancer,” he said. “I’ve had women tell me they do some excellent work, so I think you also have to put that into account, but I would defund Planned Parenthood because of their view and the fact of their work on abortion.”