SHOULD CHURCHES BE ABLE TO ENDORSE CANDIDATES AND RETAIN TAX-EXEMPT STATUS?
Pray for Congress to restore free speech to the Church.
“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” (Ps 119:165)
Since 1954, churches and other religious or nonprofit organizations have been banned from endorsing political candidates or parties from the pulpit, or else they are supposed to lose their tax-exempt status. It’s called the Johnson Amendment.
During negotiations over the Republican tax reform bill of 2017, the House-passed version repealed the Johnson Amendment entirely, while the Senate bill kept it intact. During the reconciliation process, in which the two distinct versions would be combined into a final version and likely become law, Senate Democrats used an obscure provision known as the Byrd Rule allowing them to challenge the applicability of any portion of the tax reform bill not directly dealing with taxes.
The nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough agreed with the Democrats that the Johnson Amendment language was not germane to the tax bill, so it was taken out. However, it could still pass as a piece of standalone legislation….
What the bill does
The Free Speech Fairness Act is that piece of standalone legislation.
While the lead congressional sponsors contend that their bill doesn’t repeal the Johnson Amendment — which is technically true — it may be a distinction without much difference, as the reforms are so fundamental as to effectively render the Johnson Amendment toothless.
Specifically, the bill allows any 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations such as churches to advocate for or against a political candidate or party. The bill does maintain one major provision in existing law, though: 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations such as churches would not be able to directly donate money to any candidate or political party….
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill restores free speech rights which have been trampled for 64 years and counting.
“The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability to inhibit free speech,” Lankford said in a press release. “The Free Speech Fairness Act is needed to prevent government intrusion and suppression of free speech by removing a restriction on speech that has existed since 1954.”
“The First Amendment right of free speech and right to practice any faith, or no faith, are foundational American values that must extend to everyone, whether they are a pastor, social worker or any charity employee or volunteer,” Lankford continued. “People who work for a nonprofit still have constitutional rights to assembly, free speech, and free press.”…
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the Johnson Amendment has for decades been a necessary measure to prevent what would essentially be taxpayer subsidies for religious proselytizing about political candidates or parties. They say, why should taxpayers subsidize political speech they might disagree with?
“The rules don’t bar discussion of political issues [emphasis added] by tax-exempt nonprofits. The only thing these groups can’t do is become shills for someone’s campaign for office,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry Lynn wrote in a U.S. News & World Report op-ed….
In real life
It’s also doubtful how harmful the existing rule is in reality, even to opponents. More than 2,000 churches have deliberately disobeyed the law since a decade-long campaign beginning in 2008 spearheaded by the Alliance Defending Freedom. Of those more than 2,000 churches, not a single one has actually lost their tax-exempt status….
Odds of passage
The House bill has attracted 61 House cosponsors, all Republicans, and awaits a potential vote in the Ways and Means Committee. The Senate bill has attracted a few fewer five cosponsors, all Republicans, and awaits a potential vote in the Finance Committee…. (Excerpts from Jesse Rifkin’s article on GovTrackInsider.com.
Partner with Us
Intercessors for America is the trusted resource for millions of people across the United States committed to praying for our nation. If you have benefited from IFA's resources and community, please consider joining us as a monthly support partner. As a 501(c)3 organization, it's through your support that all this possible.