By Emily Krueger
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) recently introduced H.R. 3600, “To restore the Free Speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment.” The Johnson amendment, passed by Congress in 1954, is the law that prohibits churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in political campaign activity in support of or opposition to any candidate for public office. This is not the first time Rep. Jones has tried to push this agenda, and we’ve covered his seemingly constant efforts in the past (as well as his labeling of AU and other opponents to the bill as “evil”).
Churches can endorse a candidate if they want. But if they do, they lose their tax exemption. The issue, boiled down, is that houses of worship cannot both endorse or oppose a particular political candidate and receive a tax exemption from the government.
Religious politicking is a flat-out bad idea for a number of reasons. Making this change would dramatically impact our campaign finance system – houses of worship are tax exempt because they are supposed to be charitable, not political. For this reason, contributions made to them are tax deductible while political donations are not. Furthermore, the American people don’t want this change. A 2008 poll showed that 85 percent of Americans do not believe it is “appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates for public office,” and 75 percent think it is not “appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office.”
Beyond public opinion, houses of worship should not receive special treatment. The bill would carve out political privileges for churches and other non-profit organizations – this drive to create an uneven playing field in not just unfair, but raises serious constitutional questions as well.
The bill has failed time and time again as it surely will this time around, and yet Rep. Jones refuses to quit. This effort to unfairly change IRS code is misguided, bad for government, and bad for religion.
You can read more extensive coverage of why the repeal of the Johnson Amendment would be bad policy here.