Americans United for Separation of Church and State today expressed disappointment over a vote by a House committee on a provision in the new tax bill that threatens to draw America’s houses of worship into partisan politics.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) contains a provision that will exempt houses of worship from the Johnson Amendment – the six-decades-old law that has safeguarded all tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, charitable nonprofits, and foundations, by ensuring that candidates and campaigns cannot pressure them for political endorsements. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee voted down an amendment offered by U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would have stripped this provision from the bill.
Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United, released this statement in response:
“We are deeply disappointed that members of the Ways and Means committee rejected the Lewis amendment by a 16-23 vote. Exempting houses of worship from the Johnson Amendment risks turning them into tools of candidates and political campaigns and will lead to divisions within houses of worship as congregants, donors and those they serve become split along party lines. That is why 103 religious and denominational organizations and 4,200 faith leaders have opposed efforts to weaken the Johnson Amendment.
“The provision in the tax-reform bill will also divert billions of dollars from political campaigns into houses of worship, as donors will be allowed to both remain anonymous and receive a tax deduction if their political contributions are given to a church. Furthermore, by singling out houses of worship for special treatment under the law, this bill violates the Constitution and basic principles of religious freedom.”
“We want to thank Rep. Lewis for his efforts to strike the provision that would weaken the Johnson Amendment, and thank Reps. Lloyd Doggett, Richard Neal, Ron Kind, Mike Thompson and Danny Davis for supporting this effort.
“As this legislation moves to the House floor, we urge members to support measures to remove this harmful language from the tax bill.”
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.