January 2018 Church & State | Viewpoint

Editor’s Note: Attempts by Con­gress to repeal or modify the Johnson Amendment – the provision in federal law that bars houses of worship and other non-profit entities from intervening in politics by endorsing or opposing candidates – are being met with growing resistance. Here are some editorials and columns criticizing the idea.


Politicized Churches And Dark Money

What the House bill really amounts to is throwing open an entirely new channel for campaign money to politicize churches, charities and foundations. Today, so-called super PACs are a massive force in politics, spending more than $1 billion in the 2016 election cycle. Such super PAC donations must be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission and are not tax-deductible. What if these donors are temp­ted to give their money to a 501(c)3 organization that beckons with a tax deduction and no disclosure? The givers won’t hold back. Churches and church-affiliated groups generally don’t even have to file IRS returns, so there will be no information about who these contributors are. Other 501(c)3 groups do file, but the donors are not disclosed to the public. The politicized churches, charities and foundations could become the latest vessels for dark-money politics.

The Washington Post
 


Don’t Draw Charitable Groups Into Partisan Politics

Lifting the law, known as the Johnson Amendment because it was engineered by Lyndon B. Johnson when he was the Senate’s Democratic leader back in the 1950s, would have troubling consequences. Charitable groups that did decide to take overt sides in political campaigns would become magnets for contributions from partisans eager both to support their favored candidates and to get a tax deduction.

Donors to a church, university or secular public-interest organizations – a radio station, for example – now can take such a deduction. Donors to political campaigns can’t. So churches and charities would be tempted to align with campaigns as a fundraising tactic. The potential for disruptive internal conflict would be immense.

—Steve Ford | Jefferson, N.C. Post
 


Churches Are Not Partisan Soapboxes

Our federal elected officials should heed the call from more than 4,200 faith leaders, more than 5,500 nonprofit organizations and more than 100 national and state denominational and religious organizations who are asking to keep the “Johnson Amendment” protections in place. No one who cares about the health and vitality of our religious communities wants to see them turned into partisan soapboxes.

—The Very Rev. Barkley Thompson, the Rev. Tommy Wil­liams and the Rev. Dr. Steve Wells, Houston Chronicle
 


Driving People Away From Churches

[N]either Trump, nor the Republicans nor the religious leaders supporting him are doing organized religion a service. The “pulpit freedom” might prove costly. People have left churches behind for less treacherous reasons than having your sermon spiked with divisive politics.

Turning a house of worship into a partisan political forum might be one more reason to go find God elsewhere.

—Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald
 


No Tax-Free Political Machines

Church is one of the few places where partisan politics isn’t overtly promoted or displayed.

The U.S. Senate should keep it that way by rejecting the House’s attempt to allow campaign activity – including candidate endorsements and political contributions — to flow through religious and other charity organizations. …

Critics of the Johnson Amendment claim it infringes on the First Amendment rights of pastors and churches to speak their minds.

No it doesn’t. It merely stops them from turning their churches into tax-free political machines.

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisc.)
 


Respect The Johnson Amendment Deal

At its core, the Johnson Amendment is a deal. Americans give charities tax advantages, which encourage donations and help people in need. In exchange, the charities leave politics to the politicians.

That deal has worked for dec­ades. If Republicans succeed in fundamentally changing that agreement, they risk further debasing our politics and ruining charities for everybody.

Kansas City Star