(Washington, DC) -- More than 4,000 faith leaders from all 50 states are calling on Congress to keep the Johnson Amendment, the part of the tax code that protects houses of worship and other tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations from being pressured by politicians for endorsements. The law, which has broad support, has been under attack by President Donald Trump and a handful of others.
The faith leaders – spanning all major religions – signed a letter explaining how the current law ensures their continued independent voice, protecting houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics or cogs in the political machine.
The letter was organized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and several other religious groups, including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Franciscan Action Network and Interfaith Alliance.
This letter joins a similar effort from 99 national and state religious groups that asked Congress in April to keep the current law, as well as a letter from almost 5,000 nonprofit organizations also calling on lawmakers to leave the Johnson Amendment intact.
“Changing the law to repeal or weaken the ‘Johnson Amendment’ – the section of the tax code that prevents tax-exempt nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates – would harm houses of worship, which are not identified or divided by partisan lines,” the letter states. “Particularly in today’s political climate, engaging in partisan politics and issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact on congregational unity and civil discourse.”
Several faith leaders who joined the letter explained their support for the Johnson Amendment:
“Repealing the Johnson Amendment effectively creates ‘Republican Churches’ and ‘Democrat Churches.’ In valuing diversity, I prefer to keep partisan politics out of the church.”
--The Rev. Charles Smith, Baptist Pastor, Madison, Georgia
“It is already a struggle to keep our places of worship safe places for all voices to pursue justice and see the divine within each individual. Taking down the barriers that keep our congregations non-partisan will remove one more place in which individuals can seek refuge from a very divided country.”
--Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, Reform Judaism, Fort Worth, Texas
“Our houses of worship are places of refuge where all are welcome to come together in peace and work toward a common good. They are a place to talk about political issues, but not to endorse political candidates. The Johnson Amendment ensures our churches and houses of worship remain free from the undue influence of political parties and candidates. Repealing or weakening the law would be devastating to our congregations and communities.”
--Sister Geraldine Nowak, OSF, Sylvania, Ohio
“I support educating members of churches about the political process, registering people to engage in the political process, and making their vote count. I am against using churches as fundraising vehicles. ”
--The Rev. Velda Love, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio
The letter and list of signatories are available at faith-voices.org.
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.