Dec 21, 2018

House Republicans last night passed a tax bill that includes a provision gutting the Johnson Amendment, a longstanding federal law that bars tax-exempt nonprofits, including houses of worship, from intervening in political campaigns by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.

“The Johnson Amendment has broad public support because Americans don’t want to see their houses of worship and charitable nonprofits become tools for partisan politics,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Yet House leadership is listening to extremist Religious Right groups instead of the people and keeps trying to gut the law. The GOP will surrender control of the House in a few days, and votes like this tell us a lot about why that happened.

“The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity of houses of worship by allowing them to focus on their charitable missions, not the divisive work of partisan politics,” said Laser. “That’s why we need to keep this six-decades-old law intact.”

The tax bill passed 220 to 183, with only three Republicans joining all Democratic representatives in opposition. Aside from politicizing houses of worship and other nonprofits, undermining the Johnson Amendment would hurt taxpayers. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that jettisoning Johnson would cost taxpayers $7.7 billion in lost revenue over 10 years as taxpayers begin diverting donations from political action committees to nonprofits that have become politicized. People could take a tax deduction on those donations, even if they were used for political purposes.

Americans United led more than 100 organizations that range from the National Council of Churches to Opera America to the Girls Scouts in writing to members of the House this week, urging them to protect the Johnson Amendment and oppose any language in the tax bill that would undermine it.

Polls repeatedly have shown that the vast majority of Americans – including Republicans and evangelical Christians – don’t want the missions of houses of worship and charities corrupted or their members divided by partisan campaign politics.

In addition, more than 4,500 faith leaders and 100 religious organizations – representing faiths across the spectrum, including African Methodist Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, as well as the secular community – plus 5,800 nonprofits have spoken out in support of its protections since President Donald Trump took office and threatened to “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment last year.

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.