Freethought Today · August 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Congress trying to thwart the Johnson Amendment

Nearly 4,500 nonprofits, including FFRF, signed a joint letter to Congress in opposing repeal of the Johnson Amendment, a move that would be disastrous for the nonprofit sector and for campaign finance.

A repeal is so widely unpopular that fully 79 percent of Americans oppose pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit.

Despite public opinion, Congress is attempting to undermine a more than 60-year-old prohibition on church electioneering. House Republicans have tried to hamstring the amendment through a provision buried 116 sections deep in the latest House Financial Services appropriations bill.

The provision reads: "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination that a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, or a convention or association of churches is not exempt from taxation for participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office unless" and is followed by a series of restrictions meant to ensure that no church is ever penalized for violating the law. Specifically, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue must personally consent to enforcement, must notify Congress of the IRS' intent to enforce the law, and must then wait 90 days before making a determination against the church.

Note that these additional protections against enforcement are only contemplated for churches and associations of churches, but not for other nonprofits, which are equally bound by the Johnson Amendment. The result is unequal treatment under the law — a preferential boon to churches in violation of the Constitution's separation between religion and government.

FFRF filed a legal challenge in May against President Trump's "religious liberty" executive order.

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