Rep. Jones Introduces Church Electioneering Bill In U.S. House

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has again sponsored legislation in Congress that would make it legal for tax-exempt houses of worship to intervene in elections.

The latest version of Jones’ bill, H.R. 3600, was introduced quietly on Dec. 7. Jones has pushed for the measure several times in years past without success, but now he has lined up some Democratic support. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) is co-sponsoring the measure.

If passed, the bill would eliminate a provision of the federal tax code that bars all groups holding a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from endorsing or opposing candidates.

Polls show that Americans are against church politicking, but Religious Right groups have been gunning for the law’s repeal for years. The Alliance Defense Fund, a prominent Religious Right legal group founded by radio and TV preachers, annually urges pastors to openly violate the provision and taunts the Internal Revenue Service to punish them.

Americans United supports the law, which was enacted unanimously by Congress in 1954. AU maintains a website, projectfairplay.org, designed to educate clergy and laypeople about the scope of the law and why it’s important.

Previous versions of Jones’ bill have been limited to houses of worship. This new version would lift the ban on politicking for all non-profit organizations, religious and secular.

Jones has sparred with Americans United about the measure in the past. In 2004, he called opponents of the legislation “evil.”

Although Jones has introduced legislation to repeal the ban on pulpit politicking several times, the measure has only received a vote in the House of Representatives once. In 2002, the bill was handily defeated, 239-178.

The new version has now been assigned to the Ways and Means Committee, and its future is uncertain.

Writing on Americans United’s website, AU Legislative Assistant Emily Krueger outlined what’s wrong with Jones’ bill.

“Religious politicking is a flat-out bad idea for a number of reasons,” Krueger observed. “Making this change would dramatically impact our campaign finance system – houses of worship are tax exempt because they are supposed to be charitable, not political. For this reason, contributions made to them are tax deductible while political donations are not.”

Krueger continued, “Furthermore, the American people don’t want this change. A 2008 poll showed that 85 percent of Americans do not believe it is ‘appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates for public office,’ and 75 percent think it is not ‘appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office.’”