Congress Should Not Undermine The Johnson Amendment

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee will vote on a bill that could cripple enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. Americans United has joined with 108 other organizations to urge the committee to strip the troubling provision.

The Johnson Amendment is a federal law that protects all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by making it illegal for them to endorse or oppose political candidates. It’s widely supported by religious and denomination organizations, faith leaders and other nonprofits, as well as the vast majority of Americans. Yet, President Donald Trump and a few members of Congress are taking steps to repeal and weaken the law. Changing current law to encourage churches and nonprofits to tell their congregations and members which political candidates to vote for will deepen divides in our congregations, organizations and communities.

The problematic provision was tucked into the FY2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which designates federal funding for Washington, D.C., and most federal agencies, including the agency that enforces the Johnson Amendment – the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unfortunately, members of Congress often use federal funding bills to push through legislation that otherwise would not have the support to pass. This year is no different.

The language in the bill prevents the IRS from investigating houses of worship that violate the Johnson Amendment unless the IRS commissioner first signs off on the investigation and reports it to Congress. By adding administrative hurdles to the law, Congress is attempting to prevent any investigations into violations by houses of worship, therefore crippling the Johnson Amendment as it applies to those entities.

A few far-right congressional leaders are attempting to weaken the Johnson Amendment so they can seek the endorsements of congregations.

Even though some members of Congress have introduced bills directly aimed at repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment, and Trump signed an executive order meant to undercut current law, this appropriations bill will be the first chance for members of Congress to vote on the Johnson Amendment. And we’ve been working hard to make sure they vote the right way – to strip the harmful provision out of the funding bill.

We’ve been meeting with key members of the committee on both sides of the aisle. We want to be on the record urging the committee to strike the problematic provision, and we organized a letter from 108 of our coalition partners to advocate the same thing. AU also sent a separate letter to the committee in support of the Johnson Amendment.

You can help: Ask your members of Congress to protect the Johnson Amendment, too.

The House Appropriations Committee will meet tomorrow at 10 a.m. to vote on this bill. Follow along with us on Twitter and check out Project Fair Play for more information and more ways you can take action.