This was originally published on Liberal America on August 17, 2017.
A group of over 4,000 faith leaders signed a petition to keep the Johnson Amendment in place.
The Johnson Amendment is a 60-plus-year-old tax code that prohibits churches from endorsing any political candidates or getting involved in any political campaigns.
The code directly reads:
“all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
Now, the amendment doesn’t prohibit all political activity in churches. Nonpartisan voter education activities and church-organized voter registration drives are perfectly legal. Churches are free to preach on social and political issues of concern. They can also publish “issue guides” as well.
The letter reads in part:
“Faith leaders are called to speak truth to power, and we cannot do so if we are merely cogs in partisan political machines. The prophetic role of faith communities necessitates that we retain our independent voice. The current law respects this independence and strikes the right balance: houses of worship that enjoy favored tax-exempt status may engage in advocacy to address moral and political issues, but they cannot tell people who to vote for or against.”
This is important to note that faith leaders are opposing the repeal because President Trump claimed to be speaking for them when he called for a repeal of the Johnson Amendment.
In February, President Donald Trump told the National Prayer Breakfast:
“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
Opponents of the Johnson Amendment often cite free speech as a reason, but the motives behind it are often financial.
Repealing the Johnson Amendment would bring a lot more money into politics via church donations. This could turn churches into powerful political organizations.