The Johnson Amendment

What Is the Johnson Amendment

 & Why Should We Keep It?


The Johnson Amendment

What Is the Johnson Amendment

 & Why Should We Keep It?

The Johnson Amendment is a federal law that protects the integrity
of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship,
as well as the integrity of our elections and the tax code.

This law prohibits tax-exempt organizations—whether a secular group or a house of worship—from supporting or opposing political candidates and political parties. It furthers the original intent behind providing tax-exempt status to nonprofit organizations, which was to ease the financial burden on organizations that operate for religious, educational, and charitable purposes. It was not intended to enable these organizations to more easily engage in partisan politics.

Congress inserted the law into the U.S. tax code in 1954 without controversy or opposition. The language was offered by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (which is why many now refer to the law as the Johnson Amendment), adopted by a Republican-led House and Senate, and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower. 

Reasons to Support
 the Johnson Amendment:

Houses of Worship Can currently Speak out on political and social issues:

Houses of worship can engage in lobbying on issues and legislation, host candidate forums, engage in voter registration drives, distribute answers to candidate questionnaires, encourage people to vote, help people get to the polls, and endorse or oppose non-partisan referendum on issues of concern. They just can’t endorse or oppose candidates. Civic engagement activities are important for community building, whereas partisan political activity fosters deep divisions among members of the community.

Current lAw protects Religious Liberty:

Current law protects the integrity of houses of worship, elections, and the tax code. Changing the law would transform houses of worship into political action committees, fundamentally changing their character and diminishing the distinctive role of the church. Tying America’s houses of worship to partisan elections would divide congregants, and set houses of worship against each other along political lines. Moreover, by remaining outside of partisan political campaigns, religious groups are autonomous and not beholden to any particular candidate or party.

MOST Americans don't want clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit:

According to multiple recent polls, the vast majority of Americans believe houses of worship should stay out of partisan campaigns. A March 2017 poll by PRRI found "more than seven in ten (71%) Americans oppose allowing churches and places of worship to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status, compared to only 22% who favor such a policy."  In addition, sixty-two percent of Republicans  and fifty-six percent of white evangelicals Protestants also support current law. A March 2017 Evangelical Leaders Survey showed that 89% of evangelical leaders do not think that pastors should endorse politicians from the pulpit. 

Read more polls here. 

Debunking Myths
about the Johnson Amendment:

Current LAW Does Not Violate the First Amendment:

Contrary to opponents’ talking points, the Johnson Amendment does not violate the First Amendment for several reasons. First, the law doesn’t restrict free speech, it instead serves to prevent the government from subsidizing political endorsements through tax-exemptions. Nor does the Johnson Amendment violate the religious freedom rights of houses of worship: the law doesn't target religious organizations, but instead applies equally to secular and religious tax-exempt organizations. To the contrary, giving houses of worship and exemption to the endorsement restrictions but applying it to secular groups would give an unconstitutional preference to religion.

Current law Does Not Unfairly Target Religious Groups:

The Johnson Amendment applies uniformly to all nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations, whether religious or secular: None can endorse or oppose candidates or political parties. If these groups want to influence a political campaign, they may do so, but they may not continue to operate as tax-exempt organizations.

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

Religious leaders may endorse or oppose a party or candidate when acting in their individual capacity. For example, Pastor Robert Jeffries endorsed Donald Trump for president. Because he did so in his personal capacity, rather than as pastor of his church, the church has not violated the law. Furthermore, houses of worship may choose to allow their pastor to issue endorsements from the pulpit – they simply will lose the organization’s tax-exempt status.


Efforts to Allow Church Electioneering

Efforts to Allow Church Electioneering

The law prohibiting houses of worship, like all tax-exempt organizations, from endorsing or opposing candidates had been relatively noncontroversial for decades. Despite the fact that the law remains popular with the American people today, a small but vocal opposition to the provision has emerged and has been advocating for the repeal of the law. President Donald Trump has unfortunately embraced these calls for repeal.

Trump's Promise To Repeal And "Destroy" Current law

The Johnson Amendment made big news recently because, as a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to repeal the provision. He even amended the Republican Party’s official platform to explicitly include a call to repeal the law.

Now president, Trump continues to repeat his promise that he will repeal the Johnson Amendment. At the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast, he pledged to "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment."

Legislation To Repeal or Weaken Current law

Legislators in Congress have been introducing legislation that would repeal or weaken current law. This Congress is no exception. Read about the bills we are opposing. In addition, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Ways and Mean Committee (the committee that oversees tax issues), has stated that in "our Republican tax reform, we're going to repeal the damaging effects of the Johnson Amendment once and for all."

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

A large Religious Right group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has been prodding pastors to openly violate the law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. Every election year, ADF hosts a mis-named event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” during which pastors are urged to endorse or oppose candidates during sermons.