The U.S. House of Representatives on July 19 approved a spending bill that includes language that would undermine the Johnson Amendment, the provision in the federal tax code that protects the integrity of our elections and nonprofits – including houses of worship – by ensuring that tax-exempt organizations don’t endorse or oppose political candidates.
Section 112 of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill, which funds the IRS and other federal agencies, would make the Johnson Amendment nearly impossible to enforce by erecting several administrative hurdles. It would require consent from the IRS commissioner, notification to two congressional committees and a 90-day waiting period to investigate any potential violation. And, even though the Johnson Amendment applies to all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, the bill’s language would apply only to houses of worship – likely violating the First Amendment’s prohibiton on favoring of religion over nonreligion by the federal government.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in June proposed an amendment to strip the harmful language from the bill, but the House Appropriations Committee defeated their proposed amendment in a 28-21 vote. Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) both proposed amendments to preserve the Johnson Amendment during a July 16 hearing of the House Rules Committee, but those efforts also were defeated.
The House approved the spending bill with the harmful Johnson Amendment language in a 217-199 vote on July 19. It’s not yet known whether the language will be in the Senate’s version of the appropriations bill. The House included a similar provision in the FSGG appropriations bill last year, but the Senate version did not.
Americans United and 144 other organizations sent a letter to the House Rules Committee, urging it to protect the Johnson Amendment: “Weakening current law would allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches for endorsements, dividing congregations and opening them up to the flow of secret money. Americans do not want our charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics.”