Feb 07, 2018

In advance of Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is one of 145 organizations calling on Congress to protect churches from politicians seeking political endorsements by rejecting any attempts to undermine the Johnson Amendment. At last year’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump announced his plans to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.”

“The Johnson Amendment protects nonprofit organizations, including houses of worship, from politicians like the president who want to pressure them for endorsements and campaign funds,” said Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United. “While President Trump is pushing a plan that will divide congregations and communities, we united with 144 religious and nonprofit groups to protect the Johnson Amendment.”

“President Trump has made it very clear that he is carrying out the agenda of a few Religious Right leaders who are the president’s most ardent supporters,” said Garrett. “But Americans, including the vast majority of faith leaders, do not want their congregations and charitable nonprofits divided by the corrosive influence of partisan politics.”

For more than 60 years the Johnson Amendment has ensured that 501(c)(3) organizations don’t endorse or oppose candidates seeking political office, thereby protecting nonprofits from the divisiveness of partisan politics. Although the law has broad support from the American public and faith leaders, President Trump and a handful of political operatives are trying to gut the Johnson Amendment for their own benefit.

Although language that would have essentially repealed the Johnson Amendment was stripped from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December, the pending 2018 funding package approved by the House contains a provision that would continue the attempts to chip away at the current law by making it incredibly difficult for the IRS to investigate churches that have violated the law.

That’s why Americans United is one of 145 organizations to sign a letter urging Congress to protect the Johnson Amendment in the appropriations process. “Americans do not want our charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics,” the letter explains. “We must keep this valuable safeguard that protects our houses of worship, our charitable organizations, and our political process.”

Since the last National Prayer Breakfast, more than 5,600 nonprofits, 100 religious and denominational organizations and 4,300 faith leaders have told Congress in no uncertain terms to oppose any changes to the law.

Attacking the Johnson Amendment is just one of the many ways the president has misused religious freedom as a tool to divide and discriminate. He might speak of his other discriminatory policies during the National Prayer Breakfast, including:

  • His administration’s new rules that would allow religion to be used as an excuse for employers and universities to deny women access to birth control in their insurance plans.
  • His administration’s new rules that would allow health care professionals to use religion as an excuse to refuse to provide critical medical care to patients, particularly women and those from the LGBTQ community.
  • His Muslim ban that bars people from entering the country based solely on their religion.

“Religious freedom is about fairness. We don’t treat people differently because their beliefs aren’t the same as ours,” said Garrett. “It is not fair to ban people from our country due to their faith, and it is not fair to use faith as an excuse to deny someone vital health care. President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he has no qualms about using religion as a sword to divide and discriminate. We have no reason to expect tomorrow’s National Prayer Breakfast speech will be any different.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.