This longstanding provision in the tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, whether secular or houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The current law protects the integrity of all non-profits and doesn’t alter their rights to speak out on political issues and legislation.
Trump claims a repeal would be a gift to religion: “I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity – and other religions.” But repeal, or even weakening, the current law would be no gift. To the contrary: It would threaten religious freedom by opening up houses of worship to being used as political candidates’ campaign offices or as a means of funneling money to political candidates.
Any attack on the Johnson Amendment would harm religious freedom and that’s why Americans United helped to organize the letter to oppose the repeal. That’s also why so many religious organizations signed it, including:
- The National Council of Churches
- Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
- The United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
- Hindu American Foundation
- Friends Committee on National Legislation
- The Union for Reform Judaism
- Unitarian Universalist Association
What’s more, the threat to religious freedom is likely why the LifeWay Research poll found 79 percent of Americans also think it is wrong for a pastor to endorse a candidate during a church service and 75 percent said houses of worship shouldn’t support candidates at any time.
People don't go to churches to hear political endorsements.
Because the Johnson Amendment is also an important protection for all non-profits and the democratic process itself, we have many partners in the fight. As explained in the letter: “Changing the law jeopardizes the public’s confidence that their charitable contributions would be used for these universally valued purposes rather than mere partisan politics.” AU joined up with Public Citizen to help organize the letter and our allies range from the Human Rights Campaign, Common Cause and Friends of the Earth to the League of Women Voters and Every Voice.
And there’s proof Trump is serious about his threat to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment. A draft executive order under consideration by Trump’s administration would, among a host of terrible things, undermine enforcement of this law. But Trump’s not alone – some members of Congress want to attack the Johnson Amendment as well. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has introduced a bill to completely repeal the Johnson Amendment; Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) have introduced the “Free Speech Fairness Act” that would undermine the Johnson Amendment’s protections.
Check out our Project Fair Play to learn why the Johnson Amendment is so important and why we’ve been fighting for decades to safeguard it.