Early this morning, the Washington Post broke the news that Republicans in Congress are crafting a tax package that includes a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which would allow churches and other tax-exempt organizations to support political candidates—and humanists are mobilizing to defeat it.
The Johnson Amendment refers to a change in the U.S. tax code made in 1954 which prohibits certain tax-exempt organizations from endorsing and opposing political candidates. The amendment affects churches and other nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax exemptions. Repealing the Amendment would drastically impact the separation of church and state and campaign finance by in several ways:
- Political donations to churches, which would eventually be given to candidates or causes, would be tax-deductible, unlike other forms of political giving. Contributions to super PACs and to candidates are not tax-deductible.
- Churches and other houses of worship would be able to endorse candidates from the pulpit, and tie their endorsement to a religious imperative in order to sway their parishioners. Doing so would not threaten their privileged tax status.
- Donations to churches for political ends would be completely anonymous, unlike most other forms of political giving.
- Most 501(c) groups must file Form 990 tax returns that provide some information about the group and its activities. Churches, however, are exempt from that reporting requirement. As a result, their political spending would be nearly impossible to track.
The separation of church and state and the health of our democratic process have never been in such a perilous state. We must prevent houses of worship from destabilizing our political process. As we’ve seen in the weeks since Trump’s inauguration, your phone calls, emails, and participation in public forums are making a difference. Let’s make our voices heard by contacting our Representatives and Senators today and letting them know we oppose including the Johnson Amendment repeal in the greater tax reform package.