Attacks continued over the summer on the Johnson Amendment, the federal law that for more than 60 years has ensured that tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, do not endorse or oppose political candidates.
President Donald J. Trump, backed by some members of Congress and Religious Right leaders, is pushing to repeal or weaken the provision. Trump has repeatedly vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” a promise he reiterated during a July 13 interview with TV preacher Pat Robertson on the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The same day, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee voted to cripple the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to enforce the Johnson Amendment. The House Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill includes an amendment that would require consent from the IRS commissioner, notification to two committees in Congress and a 90-day waiting period before any investigation into a potential violation could occur – hurdles that would make it unlikely for any investigations to move forward.
The House committee narrowly voted down an amendment from U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that would have stripped this harmful language. The spending bill with the provision to weaken the Johnson Amendment next goes to the House floor.
At Church & State’s press time, AU and allies were organizing a project called Hometown Congressional Visits to give religious-freedom advocates an opportunity to educate their members of Congress about the importance of the law and its broad public support. Activists distributed information demonstrating how the Johnson Amendment protects charities and churches from being used as political tools, and how it protects taxpayers from being forced to subsidize the partisan election activities of these organizations.
On Aug. 16, more than 4,000 faith leaders from all 50 states called on Congress to keep the Johnson Amendment intact. 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 political machines. The letter was organized by Americans United and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.