Monday, June 05, 2017

The Johnson Amendment

About the Johnson Amendment - "Repealing the Johnson Amendment will have no impact upon what my church (or most churches) do. It is an empty gesture."

The so-called Johnson Amendment originated with Lyndon Johnson, as a senator. He believed that a tax-exempt foundation financially supported his opponent in a tough election. After he was elected, Johnson proposed an amendment to the bill which eventually became the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. That amendment provides that 501(c)(3) organizations may "not participate in, or intervene in ...any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."

Title 26 U.S. Code § 2522 (a) 2 - Charitable and similar gifts:
(2) a corporation, or trust, or community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), including the encouragement of art and the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, which is not disqualified for tax exemption under section 501(c)(3) by reason of attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office;
HERE is an IRS bulletin opinion on it, from 2007:

There has been much said and written about the so-called Johnson Amendment, from the first time Donald Trump promised he would "destroy it". It generated a lot of talk and a lot of heat, but in the end Bart Barber is probably right. Nevertheless, I favor getting rid of the Johnson Amendment. Trump didn't quite do what he promised. Section 2 of his Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty addresses it.
"Respecting Religious and Political Speech. All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech. In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury. As used in this section, the term "adverse action" means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies any tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit."
I have two thoughts about the government penalizing political speech in churches.
  • Biblically, churches should not endorse candidates. We have a higher calling, and are to be partisans for the kingdom of heaven rather than political parties.
  • Legally, it is a matter of freedom of speech and freedom of religion should be nobody's business whether or not a church does it. The government should butt out.
Before the Johnson amendment, churches were both free in their speech and tax exempt. It's not like the Johnson amendment first created the idea of tax exemption for churches. The decision should be an internal issue for churches, and the government should stay out of it. Political and religious speech is just the kind of speech the First Amendment is intended to protect, and the government has not been beckoned to intercede when the lines of political and religious speech are blurred. Let a church rather than the government determine who to endorse or whether to endorse. Let that church reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of its choice. 

It is amusing to me that many religiously-minded who are on the left politically rail against politics in the pulpit, while plastering it all over their social media.  On his blog of Pastor Wade Burleson of Emmanuel BC, Enid, Oklahoma cleverly captured the irony of it all: "In our day of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, a pastor would have to be blind and deaf not to know the preferences and personal biases of church members, whether it be about politics, entertainment or religion." What he says regarding the pastor knowing the preferences and biases of the church members is also true of the church members knowing about the pastor's. While "carefully guarding" the pulpit from endorsing politicians, many are not all that careful otherwise!

Churches having their own voices independent from the government's oversight -- whether I like that voice or not, and whether or not they use it wisely -- is more important than the tax issue.

Linked below is a "middle view" on the Johnson Amendment: "We should limit political activity by churches—but not speech from the pulpit...repeal the Johnson Amendment with respect to things that cost no money, and leave it in place for the things that do."

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