New Tax Bill Threatens Integrity Of America’s Houses Of Worship

The vast majority of Americans support the Johnson Amendment – the provision in the tax code that ensures tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, do not endorse or oppose political candidates. But the leadership of the House of Representatives ignored the American people today when they released a tax-reform package that includes language that exempts houses of worship from the law.

The bill would allow churches – but not other nonprofits – to endorse candidates for public office so long as the endorsements are made in the ordinary course of carrying out their tax-exempt purpose, don’t incur more than minor expenses and occur during “religious services and gatherings.” That may sound narrow, but it essentially makes the Johnson Amendment meaningless as applied to houses of worship.

Americans don't want to see their houses of worship turned into centers for partisan politics.

For example, a pastor could include an endorsement of a candidate in his sermon every Sunday and in the lesson taught at each Bible study, and then post a video of that sermon and the Bible study on the church website, email them to parishioners and distribute them publicly on social media. A church that provides social services to the public could tell each and every person who attends who to vote for. This would allow partisan campaign politics to pervade every aspect of the organization, fundamentally changing its purpose and character.

The Johnson Amendment is a safeguard that protects the integrity of all tax-exempt organizations, like houses of worship, charities and foundations that work for the common good. But under the new tax bill, politicians could pressure churches for endorsements and use them as political tools for their own benefit. This will hurt churches, and it’s unconstitutional. It violates the Founding Fathers’ promise of separation of church and state.

No one wants to see our houses of worship torn apart by partisan campaign politics. And in particular, 5,500 non-profit organizations, more than 4,200 faith leaders and nearly 100 religious and denominational organizations have already written to Congress to reject efforts to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. They are joined by 91 members of Congress who wrote to House leadership to urge them to keep the Johnson Amendment in place.

Congressional leadership should listen to all of these Americans and strip this harmful language from the tax-reform bill during its markup in the House Ways and Means Committee, which is currently scheduled for Nov. 6. You can add your voice before then, too. Urge your member of Congress to oppose language to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment in the tax-reform bill.