(CNSNews.com) - Republican Donald Trump told a roomful of evangelicals on Thursday that he was suprised to learn they are afraid to endorse him because they worry about their churches losing their non-profit status.
"Your power has been totally taken away. I mean, I don't want to insult anybody, but your power has been totally taken away," Trump told the gathering in Orlando, Fla.
"So, we're going to get your voice back. We're going to get it back," he promised.
Trump explained how he recently learned about the so-called "Johnson amendment," proposed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1954. The amendment changed the tax code to bar tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates or otherwise preaching politics from the pulpit.
"So I didn't know this, and I didn't know about the -- I know 501(c)(3), but I didn't know that it played such a big role. And basically, I looked back into it. I said, I want to check this out," Trump told the pastors.
Trump said he was surprised to learn that Johnson, by getting his amendment passed, was able to "silence people who didn't feel so good about him."
"And I said, wow, that's incredible. And for some reason, the churches, the pastors, the evangelicals, they didn't do anything about it. It's very strange, because I know how tough you are."
Given the size of their congregations, pastors "should be far more powerful," Trump said.
"And if you look what's happened to religion, if you look at what's happening to Christianity, and you look at the number of people going to churches -- and evangelicals know this also -- it's not on this kind of a climb, it's on this kind of a climb of slow and steady in the wrong direction.
"And a lot of it has to do with the fact that you've been silenced. You've been silenced like a child. You've been silenced, you've been silenced. Strong, brilliant, great people that want to do the right thing. We're not talking about bad people, we're talking about great people."
Trump said pastors should be able to air their political views in church without fear of losing their federal tax exempt status. "And I'm going to figure a way that we can get you back your freedom of speech that was taken away," he said. The line drew applause.
Trump noted that as he got closer to receiving the Republican presidential nomination, he told his people to add repeal of the Johnson amendment into the Republican Party Platform.
And he said he intends to follow through with repeal efforts: "I was with a couple of pastors two weeks ago and they weren't really sure. They had heard we're going to get rid of it, but they weren't really sure.
"I hope you can spread the word," Trump said. "This will be so great for religion, but it will be so great for the evangelicals, for the pastors, for the ministers, for the priests, for America, for America. You know, they took away your voice. They took away the voice of great people.
"They took away the voice of people that want to see good things happen. It's not like they took away a bad voice, an evil voice. They took away a voice."
Trump promised that he'll be able to "terminate" the Johnson amendment.
"And you'll have great power to do good things. And religion will start going, instead of this way -- I mean, Christianity, when you think of what's happening, you look at the numbers. I talk about Sunday school and people don't even know what I'm talking about anymore. It's true. They don't know what I'm talking about.
"When you look -- instead of going this way, you're going to be going this way. You may be going this way. But you're going to be going -- we're going to bring it back because it's a good thing. It's a good thing. They treated you like it was a bad thing, but it's a great thing, not a good thing. It's a great thing.
"So, if I get elected president, one of the early things, one of the absolute first things I'm going to do is work on totally knocking out the Johnson amendment. Now, it's not going to be that hard, because even the Democrats -- the power you have is so enormous. It's not like you have -- you represent two percent of the country and, you know, it's going to be difficult. You probably -- 75, 80 percent.
"And if you want to put your full weight, I mean, can you imagine if all of your people start calling up the local congressman and the local senator, and you -- I mean, they don't have a chance of winning that one."
Trump also told the pastors he "may not perfect," but he knows how to win. He admitted to being "not perfect on the Bible -- but I did go to Sunday school for many years, I want to tell you that."