TaxLaw-Web.jpg
JohnsonBanner.png
MorInfo.jpg
News.jpg
TaxLaw-Web.jpg

WHY WE CARE


And Why You Should, Too...

SCROLL DOWN

WHY WE CARE


And Why You Should, Too...

Federal tax law is clear: Tax-exempt houses of worship and other non-profit groups may not endorse or oppose candidates for public office. This is not the role for faith communities when it comes to engagement in the public realm.

Religious leaders may freely address political and social issues from the pulpit. But they may not use their faith communities’ resources to endorse or oppose candidates, donate funds to candidates’ campaigns, issue endorsements, or engage in other activities that have the effect of intervening in an election. 

In recent years, a small but aggressive group of political and religious leaders has pushed to America’s houses of worship centers of partisan politics. This misguided campaign is deeply divisive in a pluralistic nation; it blurs the legal lines between political organizations and faith groups and it threatens the integrity of religion.

We agree with Faith Leaders from across the theological and political spectrum: Let's keep sacred spaces sacred. 

But it isn’t just about IRS regulations and federal laws. The majority of Americans – including the devout – oppose making houses of worship centers of partisan politics. 

Pulpit politicking threatens to divide faith communities and erode the important boundary between church and state that make each distinct.

It’s a bad deal all around.

Study the information on this site and learn what you can do to take action.

 
JohnsonBanner.png

The Johnson Amendment


SCROLL DOWN

The Johnson Amendment


What Is the Johnson Amendment
and How Has It Become a Divisive Issue?

The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code that prohibits tax-exempt groups—whether a secular organization or a house of worship—from supporting or opposing political candidates and political parties. It dates back to 1954 when Congress adopted language offered by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson to prevent all nonprofit organizations from endorsing candidates running for public office. In 1987, Congress amended the provision to clarify that tax-exempt organizations also may not oppose any candidate for public office.


What the Johnson Amendment Means for Houses of Worship:

Houses of worship and religious organizations are free to engage in elections in a nonpartisan manner, including voter education, get out the vote drives, and speaking to political and moral issues. If they want to maintain their tax exemption status, however, they may not endorse or oppose political candidates and political parties. Civic engagement activities are important for community building, whereas partisan political activity fosters deep divisions among members of the community.

Why the Johnson Amendment Is Good for Religious Liberty:

The Johnson Amendment protects both the integrity of houses of worship and the tax code. Engaging in partisan politics is harmful to houses of worship because it divides members of religious communities along political lines, pitting congregants against one another and against their clergy. Moreover, by remaining outside of the political process, religious groups are autonomous and not beholden to any particular candidate or party.

MOST Americans Support the Johnson Amendment:

According to a recent Pew Research survey and a poll conducted by Life Way Research, the vast majority of Americans are against political endorsements from churches. According to the Life Way Research poll 79 percent of Americans think it is wrong for a pastor to endorse a candidate during a church service, while 75 percent said houses of worship shouldn’t support candidates at any time.


Efforts to Repeal the Johnson Amendment:

Although the Johnson Amendment remained relatively uncontroversial for decades, in recent years it has gained vocal opposition. Opponents now even sponsor an event known as Pulpit Freedom Sunday, to encourage faith leaders to defy the Johnson Amendment by endorsing or opposing political candidates. And, there have been unsuccessful efforts in Congress to repeal the provision for years. Most recently, bills have been introduced by Rep. Jones (R-NC), Rep. Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Scalise (R-LA), and Rep. Hice (R-GA) to repeal the Johnson Amendment, but none have gained any traction.

The Johnson Amendment made big news this year because Presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to repeal the provision. By falsely framing the Johnson Amendment as a law that harms religious liberty and freedom of speech, he has thrown the issue into the spotlight.

Trump also amended the Republican Party’s official platform  to explicitly include a call to repeal the Johnson Amendment: “Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring the speech of America’s churches, pastors, and religious leaders. We support repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which restricts First Amendment freedoms of all nonprofit organizations by prohibiting political speech.”
 

What a Repeal Would Mean:

A repeal of the Johnson Amendment or even a weakening of its enforcement mechanism would blur the line between church and state. The original intent behind the tax code’s tax-exempt status for nonprofit organizations was to ease the financial burden on organizations that operate for religious, educational, and charitable purposes. It was not meant to enable religious organizations to more easily engage in political campaigns. Just as campaign organizations and Political Action Committees are not tax-exempt entities, houses of worship that aid in a politician’s campaign may not operate as tax-exempt either.


Debunking Myths
about the Johnson Amendment:

The Johnson Amendment Does Not Violate the First Amendment:

Contrary to opponents’ talking points, the Johnson Amendment does not violate religious groups’ freedom of speech. Courts have found that the government may impose limits on nonprofits’ political speech because the government may not subsidize political endorsements through tax exemption. Nor does the Johnson Amendment violate the Free Exercise Clause or Establishment Clause because it is a neutral law that does not single out religious organizations, and because it affects only houses of worship’s outward political endorsements, and not their internal workings.

The IRS Does Not Unfairly Target Religious Groups:

Contrary to opponents’ talking points, the Johnson Amendment does not violate religious groups’ freedom of speech. Courts have found that the government may impose limits on nonprofits’ political speech because the government may not subsidize political endorsements through tax exemption. Nor does the Johnson Amendment violate the Free Exercise Clause or Establishment Clause because it is a neutral law that does not single out religious organizations, and because it affects only houses of worship’s outward political endorsements, and not their internal workings.

People of Faith Are Not Prohibited from Endorsing and Opposing Candidates:

Religious leaders are free to speak from the pulpit about political and moral issues, as long as they do not endorse or oppose a candidate for office. And, if religious leaders wish to issue endorsements from the pulpit, they can do so – they simply will lose their organization’s tax-exempt status.

Moreover, religious leaders may endorse or oppose a party or candidate when acting in their individual capacity. For example, Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump for president. Because he did so in his personal capacity, rather than as president of Liberty University, the university has not violated the Johnson Amendment. 


Take Action

As of now, Congressional efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment have not been successful. But given the renewed interest from opponents, it is important to speak out against religious engagement in partisan politics.

Read Our Talking Points

Take PArt In Our Week of Action

Write A Letter To The Editor

Sign the Petition Calling on the IRS to Enforce the Johnson Amendment

MorInfo.jpg

RESOURCES


Talking Points, FAQ, Further Reading
& Current Events on Religion and Politics

SCROLL DOWN

RESOURCES


Talking Points, FAQ, Further Reading
& Current Events on Religion and Politics

Our Talking Points

  • The ban on partisan politics, known as the Johnson Amendment, protects the integrity of houses of worship. 

  • The Johnson Amendment applies to all tax-exempt nonprofit organizations uniformly, not only to houses of worship. 

  • According to recent surveys, the vast majority of Americans are against political endorsements from churches. 

  • The Johnson Amendment does not bar houses of worship from speaking out on political issues. Faith leaders are free to speak to their congregations about political issues, as long as they do not endorse or oppose a political party or candidate for public office.

  • The Johnson Amendment does not prohibit religious leaders from endorsing or opposing candidates or political parties in their own personal capacity.

  • Houses of worship have the right to refuse tax-exempt status if they want to endorse candidates. 

  • If 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to engage in political endorsements, they essentially become Political Action Committees (PACs).


Further Reading

A dozen San Antonio interfaith leaders gathered in front of the Bexar County Courthouse on Wednesday to remind houses of worship that partisan politics violates federal law and could threaten their nonprofit tax-exempt status.

If you were a social conservative, Donald Trump’s acceptance speech had to leave you crying in your diet Coke. After all you’ve done for him this election season what you get is a pledge to defend LBGTQ rights from radical Islamic terrorism? Sheesh. Actually you did get something. You got the one item on your agenda that Trump actually seems to care about.

Among the many policy positions embedded in the 2016 Republican Party Platform is a call to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a controversial Internal Revenue Service regulation that has come under fire from churches and religious freedom advocates in recent years.

  • Letter to Religious Leaders for Election Season 2016

    Dear Religious Leader,
    As Election Day draws near, candidates and their supporters may seek help or endorsements from your house of worship. Thus, this is a good time to familiarize yourself with the law governing electioneering by nonprofit organizations. Read More…

  • Public Opinion Polls Show Broad Opposition To Church Partisanship

    In September of 2008, Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research released a public opinion poll that showed broad opposition to church endorsements of political candidates or any use of church resources to support candidates’ campaigns.

  • Church & State Article: Religious Right Groups Want Pastors To ‘Cross The Line’ On Church Politicking – And Spark A Court Showdown

    The Alliance Defense Fund, a national Religious Right legal group founded by television preachers, urged religious leaders to violate the law barring church electioneering during services on Sept. 28, 2008. (The group repeated the stunt in 2009 and plans to do so again in 2010.) This article from Church & State magazine explains why clergy should reject the ADF overture for legal and ethical reasons.

  • Pew Research Center Poll on Religion in Public Life

    The Pew Research Center is a respected organization that conducts some of the best polling available about the role of religion in public life. In August of 2008, the Pew Center released a poll finding that more Americans than ever – including self-identified conservatives – were questioning the appropriateness of mixing religion and politics. See the full results of the poll here.

  • Brochure: Religion, Partisan Politics and Tax Exemption

    This brochure provides an overview of church politicking. Download PDF

  • Blog Post from Wall of Separation, "Doing Damage: Committee Says IRS Failure To Update Church Audit Procedures Is Harming The Agency"

In a lengthy report covering many areas of tax exemption, the Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) said last week that the IRS’s leadership has dropped the ball when it comes to policing houses of worship that violate federal law.

Excellent article detailing the history of this issue and the continued refusal of some faith groups to obey the law and respect the sacredness of houses of worship from partisan politics. 

The church is called to refute those movements that seek to harm others. Jesus shows us time after time that he stands in solidarity with the outcasts and the disenfranchised. Being the church is about being called to discern, witness and act appropriately when the rhetoric of fear threatens to stifle the good news of God’s reign, whether in the voting booth or in backyard conversations with our neighbor. Our silence during such times of fearmongering is all too often interpreted as complicity.

News.jpg

Latest NEWS


SCROLL DOWN

Latest NEWS


Keep up to date with the latest developments in keeping partisan politicking out of America’s churches.