Nov 16, 2017

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today criticized the U.S. House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which would essentially repeal the Johnson Amendment. This 63-year-old provision in federal law protects the integrity of our elections and tax-exempt nonprofits, including houses of worship, by ensuring the organizations don’t endorse or oppose candidates for public office.

The tax bill also includes a provision that would transform 529 college savings plans into a voucher-like program, giving tax breaks for K-12 private school tuition. This would redirect vital tax dollars that could fund our public schools to private schools instead.

“The tax bill threatens the integrity of our elections and all of our tax-exempt organizations. No one wants to turn our charitable nonprofits, houses of worship and foundations into political campaign tools. It will divide these organizations along party lines,” said Maggie Garrett, Americans United’s legislative director. “That is why the American public, houses of worship, faith leaders and charitable organizations have all strongly opposed the weakening or repeal of the Johnson Amendment.”

Multiple polls have shown that the majority of Americans – including Republican and evangelical voters – don’t want tax-exempt organizations endorsing political candidates. And thousands of faith leaders and nonprofits have voiced support for the Johnson Amendment. More information is available at Project Fair Play, AU’s campaign to educate faith leaders and lay people about the importance of the law.

Garrett also was critical of the tax bill’s provision that would funnel tax-free savings into 529 plans to benefit wealthy families sending their children to private elementary and secondary schools.

“These voucher-like plans undermine public schools by redirecting desperately needed resources to private schools,” Garrett said. “The plans benefit the wealthiest families who can already afford to send their children to private, mostly religious schools. Families have the right to choose a private education for their children, but that choice shouldn’t come at the cost of defunding the public education system relied on by 90 percent of American school children.

“We urge the Senate to listen to the will of the American people by keeping these harmful provisions out of their version of the tax bill,” Garrett added. “Congress should not advance legislation that only benefits politicians and that hinders our children’s education.”