Written by Don Byrd
Despite the urging of advocates including the Baptist Joint Committee, and the efforts of some lawmakers to amend the bill, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed an appropriations bill that left intact language severely weakening protections against politicizing our houses of worship. The so-called Johnson Amendment prohibits tax-exempt non-profit organizations including houses of worship from engaging in electoral politics. The troublesome provision, Section 116 in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, while falling short of repealing the Johnson Amendment entirely, would make its enforcement by the IRS significantly more difficult, to the point of gutting its effectiveness.
The Baptist Joint Committee has long supported the law barring churches from political activity as an effective tool to protect church autonomy, and to avoid needless division within congregations. The Johnson Amendment also serves to safeguard the integrity of our campaign finance system by prohibiting the exploitation of houses of worship by candidates and political parties.
BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler spoke powerfully about the importance of the Johnson Amendment in testimony to Congress earlier this year. Here is an excerpt:
Changing the law would expose churches to political pressure to endorse candidates. The campaign intervention prohibition applies not only to presidential and congressional elections, but to every state and local race, too. Many candidates and donors supporting candidates would have a strong incentive to put pressure on churches to become involved in their campaigns, particularly given the high-valued tax status churches enjoy…
The legislative “solutions” that have been put forward would threaten great harm to houses of worship.
For more on this topic, see the BJC’s resource page, “Community not Candidates.”