Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee began preliminary discussion over the new tax bill, which includes language that severely weakens the Johnson Amendment, a provision of the tax code that protects the integrity of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose candidates.
The tax bill, if passed as is, would allow churches – but not other tax-exempt organizations – to endorse political candidates if the endorsement happens during “religious services and gatherings.”
Although yesterday marked the start of what will be multiple days of discussion, one big tidbit came out of the markup. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) asked about the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimate that exempting houses of worship from the Johnson Amendment would cost the government $2.1 billion.
According to the representative testifying for the JCT, the government expects $2.1 billion in campaign contributions to be re-routed to churches because those donations will now be both tax-deductible and be able to be used for candidate endorsements. Essentially, weakening the Johnson Amendment would incentivize donors to use churches as conduits for political donations, which is neither what the American public nor houses of worship want.
Congress should protect the Johnson Amendment, not weaken it.
The majority of Americans don’t think the Johnson Amendment should be repealed or undermined. Neither do more than 5,500 non-profit organizations, 4,200 faith leaders and more than 100 religious and denominational organizations. Additionally, nearly 100 members of Congress recently sent colleagues a letter asking them to protect the Johnson Amendment.
We support keeping the Johnson Amendment because it protects the integrity of houses of worship and our elections. Current law ensures that houses of worship aren’t transformed into political tools by candidates seeking power. That is likely why the vast majority of Americans believe houses of worship should stay out of partisan campaigns.
Houses of worship, like all tax-exempt organizations, can speak out about political issues. But they can’t endorse political candidates or parties; if members of the clergy want to endorse candidates, they can do so in their own individual capacity.
Join us in fighting back. The bill is being discussed and voted on this week, so now is the time to contact your representative in Congress and urge them to strip harmful language weakening the Johnson Amendment from the final tax measure.
Email your Members of Congress today and tell them that you support the current law that prohibits houses of worship, like all tax-exempt organizations, from endorsing and opposing candidates.