During an Aug. 21 campaign speech, Josh Hawley, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, falsely claimed the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional and called for its repeal. The Johnson Amendment, which is the provision in the tax code that ensures all non-profit organizations, including houses of worship, cannot endorse political candidates, has already withstood a constitutional challenge in federal court. The law also has strong support from the faith and charitable nonprofit communities and the public as a whole. That's why people in Missouri are loudly rejecting Hawley’s proposal.
Churchnet, also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, came out strongly in favor of the Johnson Amendment almost immediately after Hawley’s comments were made public. Executive Director Brian Ford stated: “As a life-long Baptist and ordained pastor, I can’t imagine how damaging it would be to erase [the Johnson Amendment] for local churches across the nation.”
And the Rev. Carol McEntyre, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., wrote in the St. Louis Dispatch that the Johnson Amendment is “good for churches.” She explained: “The overwhelming majority of the religious and nonprofit community supports the Johnson Amendment so we can remain focused on our mission, not mired in partisan mudslinging.”
They aren’t the only faith leaders in Missouri who support the Johnson Amendment. In fact, more than 130 Missouri faith leaders joined a letter stating they are “strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics.” Contrast this with the statement from only 92 clergy who support Hawley that was put together this week by the Family Research Council (FRC), a Religious Right group that insists faith leaders want the repeal.
It’s telling that Hawley and FRC – a politician and a political group with its own PAC – seem to want this more than faith leaders in the state. And it’s no wonder because repealing the law would allow political parties and candidates seeking power to use houses of worship as political campaign tools.
Other Missouri voices have spoken out in favor of the Johnson Amendment too. The editorial board of the News Tribune in Missouri’s capital city of Jefferson City wrote that “repealing the Johnson Amendment would be bad for politics, bad for churches and bad for America.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s editorial in support of the law noted: “You don’t need to look far into history, or the present world, to see how mixing faith and politics distorts both.” And a Kansas City Star editorial countered Hawley’s false claim that the law restricted the speech of pastors: “Pastors can speak on the issues of the day. They can criticize leaders. They just can’t engage in political campaigns and formally endorse or oppose one contender over another.”
The fate of houses of worship aren’t the only organizations at stake. Repeal of the Johnson Amendment would threaten the integrity and independence of all charitable nonprofits, whether they are secular or religious. Nearly 100 Missouri nonprofits signed a letter in favor of protecting the Johnson Amendment, because “nonpartisanship is a cornerstone principle that has strengthened the public’s trust of the charitable community.”
There are so many reasons to support the Johnson Amendment. Perhaps that is why a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows only 13 percent of the public supports repealing it.
You can help protect the Johnson Amendment too. If you are a faith leader, you can join the Faith Voices letter. You can also write to your member of Congress now to tell them you support this federal law.