The Attack Against The Johnson Amendment

June 12, 2018 – Congress is wanting to get rid of the Johnson Amendment so that:

None of the funds made available by this (Appropriations) 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 …”

Image result for Church and state wallPlease note that this change does not affect IRS Section 501(c)(3) non-religious nonprofits and charities. This is an important distinction, which will lead churches and their affiliates to become advocates for political candidates. More direct, it will allow Christian churches to advocate for candidates that want this nation to become a theocracy.

There is one additional caveat to the change of law. Unlike other 501(c)(3) nonprofits, churches are exempt from disclosing the names of the donors. This means more “dark money” being funneled into the political process. As we have seen from the fiasco in Missouri gubernatorial race in 2016, dark money is a definite problem in the campaign process.

Sec. 116 of the 2018 spending bill (as of this writing it has no number) basically strips the IRS of the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment says that all 501 (c)(3) not-for-profits “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.”

Named after then Senator Lyndon Johnson, this 1954 provision to the Tax Code was made when churches throughout Texas started to campaign against the Senator using the tax-free money. The bill was passed without discussion or debate by the Senate.

Unlike the general argument that this section is based on the First Amendment’s Free Speech provision, the elimination of the Johnson Amendment is really about money and politics. It essentially makes churches and their affiliates tax deductible Political Action Committees, PACs.

Again, according to NPR, “If churches or clergy are allowed to participate in political campaigns, tax-free donations to the churches could go to support a political candidate.”

Today, if an organization wishes to support a candidate, they need to create an IRS section 501(c)(4) or IRS 527 organization. In both cases, donations are not tax deductible. A 501(c)(4), sometimes known as PACs, does not have to disclose its contributors; a 527 organization does. However, any donation provided to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, charity or religious institution is tax deductible. In addition, a 501(c)(3) must also disclose its donors with one exception – Churches do not have to disclose the names of their donors, and “dark money” could flood the political process, especially from conservative Christian churches.

According to the Washington Post, the IRS now rarely investigates possible violations. The Alliance for Defending Freedom even advocates for a “Pulpit Freedom Sundays,” dates where churches are encouraged to break the law and advocate or oppose political candidates.

The Washington Post asks a very simple question:

“Do we really want a situation in which millions of dollars in political contributions could flow tax-free through any ostensibly nonprofit organization, from evangelical megachurches to — who knows? — Harvard University?”

The question should be modified to say “nonprofit religious organization.”

Sec. 116 is a not so veiled attempt to tear down the wall of separation between church and state. By limiting the section to only churches and their affiliates, the law violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. This section of the 2018 appropriations bill is, therefore, unconstitutional. It also permits tax-free “dark money” to be funneled into candidate races, thus obscuring political transparency.

Now is the time to write your Senators and Representative to tell them that Section 116 is unconstitutional and needs to be stripped from the appropriations bill.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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