Americans United and a broad coalition of 130 national organizations sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Feb. 6 reminding them of the importance of the Johnson Amendment and asking them to support it.
The move came just days after several conservative members of Congress introduced legislation, euphemistically called the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” that would gut the law, which prevents tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from intervening in political campaigns by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
“Under the current law, which has been in place for more than six decades, tax-exempt organizations have enjoyed and exercised robust free speech rights and can speak out on any issues that they see as important,” observed the letter. “They can engage in public debate, and even, with a few boundaries, lobby on specific legislation. Moreover, in the election arena, they can – on a nonpartisan basis – host candidate forums, hold voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls, and invite candidates to speak. They simply cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office and maintain their special tax-exempt status.”
Changing the law, the letter asserts, would “allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches and charities for endorsements, dividing congregations and communities, and open them up to the flow of secret money.”