Vice President Mike Pence went to a Religious Right conference this Memorial Day weekend to tout President Donald Trump’s harmful policies on religious freedom. One of the things that stood out was that he reiterated that the Trump administration will continue attacking the Johnson Amendment, a federal law that protects the integrity of tax-exempt organizations and houses of worship by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose political candidates.
“We are going to continue to fight until we’ve fully repealed the Johnson Amendment from the Internal Revenue Code, but it will no longer be enforced under this administration… We’re going to repeal it once and for all,” Pence said at the Watchmen on the Wall conference, a gathering of hundreds of pastors and church leaders sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC).
FRC later described Pence’s comments in a tweet: “If you want to win over a room full of pastors, tell them you’ll repeal the #JohnsonAmendment! That’s exactly what @vp Pence did during a surprise visit at our Watchmen on the Wall conference. #WOTW18”
The Religious Right’s rhetoric about the Johnson Amendment is wrong. More than 4,500 faith leaders don’t think the Johnson Amendment should be repealed or undermined. Neither do a majority of Americans, 5,800 non-profit organizations and more than 100 religious and denominational organizations.
A November 2017 survey from the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) at the University of Maryland, College Park, also confirmed what previous polls have shown: The majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that we should keep the Johnson Amendment as is.
The poll revealed that 88 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 71 of Republicans don’t want the Johnson Amendment to be repealed, with 55 percent of people reporting that they believe keeping the provision in place is “very important.”
Polls have shown time and time again that repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment is very unpopular with the American public.
Americans United supports the 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 and social 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.
We’ve been fighting back against numerous attempts by this administration and Congress to weaken the Johnson Amendment. We've been successful so far in keeping any language to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment out of the tax bill last year and out of the fiscal year 2018 appropriation bill. However, as Congress begins the appropriations process once again for the next fiscal year, we’re already seeing the same attacks on the Johnson Amendment. Just last week, a House appropriations subcommittee passed its Financial Services and General Government bill, which contains language to weaken the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment for houses of worship.
To learn more about the Johnson Amendment, AU’s decades-long fight to protect it, and what we’re doing now to continue to support the Johnson Amendment, visit Project Fair Play.