The leadership of the House of Representatives today released a tax-reform package that includes language greatly weakening the Johnson Amendment – the provision in the tax code that ensures tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, do not endorse or oppose political candidates.
Today’s tax-reform proposal would change the law so that churches – but not other nonprofits – could endorse candidates seeking office.
Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United, released this statement in response:
“President Trump and House leadership are trying to change the tax code so they can pressure churches for endorsements. They very clearly want to use congregations as political tools for their own benefit. This flies in the face of the American promise of separation of church and state, and it’s blatantly unconstitutional. Every American should be paying attention to this reckless effort to erode one of our most important national principles.
“For more than six decades, the Johnson Amendment has protected houses of worship from exactly this kind of political pressure.
“This is bad policy. It’s bad for churches, and it’s bad for American taxpayers who will potentially see their money going to support partisan political operations being run out of church basements. This will further divide Americans in spaces that are specifically meant to bring them together.
“The vast majority of Americans support the Johnson Amendment and do not want our houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics. In addition, 5,500 nonprofit agencies, more than 100 religious and denominational organizations and more than 4,200 faith leaders have spoken out in support of the current law.”
The Johnson Amendment is an important safeguard for all tax-exempt organizations, including charitable organizations, houses of worship and foundations. It allows tax-exempt organizations to speak to political and social issues and, at the same time, protects them from being pressured by donors, candidates and campaigns to endorse or oppose political candidates.
Americans United has worked for more than 30 years to educate houses of worship and nonprofits about the importance of abiding by the Johnson Amendment. The group runs Project Fair Play, an effort designed to educate pastors and lay people about the importance of the law.
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.