Americans United for Separation of Church and State today joined 108 organizations that wrote to the House Appropriations Committee to urge its members to oppose a provision in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would weaken the enforcement mechanisms of the Johnson Amendment.
For more than 60 years, the American tax code has made houses of worship and nonprofits tax-free specifically because they work for the common good. A few far-right congressional leaders are attempting to change that law as they seek the endorsements of congregations in their districts.
The letter states: “Weakening current law would allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches for endorsements, dividing congregations and opening them up to the flow of secret money. Americans do not want our charities and houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics.”
Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United, said: “President Trump and a handful of others on the Hill want to be able to pressure churches for endorsements in upcoming elections. Weakening the Johnson Amendment is a mistake that will hurt congregations and other community organizations. Americans do not want our charities and houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics.”
Garrett continued, “The Johnson Amendment is a safeguard for houses of worship. It protects their right to speak out about political and social issues while, at the same time, ensuring they are not pressured by political candidates and campaigns to take a side in divisive partisan elections.”
The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the Appropriations Act Thursday, July 13, at 10 a.m. Section 116 of the bill prohibits the IRS from investigating any house of worship that is suspected of violating the Johnson Amendment unless the IRS commissioner approves the investigation and reports the investigation to Congress. This hurdle will likely serve to end enforcement of the Johnson Amendment as it applies to houses of worship.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.