Republicans’ attempts to repeal the Johnson Amendment aren’t over yet.
For more than a year now, Donald Trump has promised the Religious Right that he would sign a repeal of the rule, which forbids places of worship from endorsing political candidates if they want to keep their tax exempt status. If he were to rescind it, Christian churches be one step closer to essentially becoming fundraising arms of the Republican Party. We have no idea how much dark money would start flowing to campaigns via churches when that day arrives.
Those efforts began last year, when Trump signed an executive order claiming to repeal the rule… but it had no teeth. It was more of a performance than anything substantive.
Since then, Republicans have attempted to do the job legislatively by putting a repeal into various spending bills… to no avail. The latest attempt was thought to be via the omnibus bill passed by Congress this past March.
But when the $1.3 trillion bill was finally released, the Johnson Amendment repeal wasn’t included. (More specifically, there was no language prohibiting the IRS from using its time and money to go after churches that violate the rule by telling the congregation who to vote for.)
Bullet dodged, right?
Not so fast.
At this Road to Majority Conference this past weekend, Faith and Freedom Coalition chairman Ralph Reed announced that he was working with congressional Republicans in another attempt to rescind the rule by putting the repeal in the next “must-pass” bill.
During the congressional portion of his annual Washington conference, Reed said, “I would put it at a maybe 60 percent [likelihood],” in reference to the repeal of the Johnson amendment. “I want you to know without giving away any confidences that we are in ongoing communication with House and Senate leadership, including some of the speakers you are hearing from this weekend, about getting the Johnson amendment included in a must-pass bill before the end of this session of Congress.”
The Center For Inquiry, rightly opposing this move, is already urging members to take action by contacting their representatives. They also signed on to a letter yesterday, along with 144 other groups, urging the House Appropriations Committee to reconsider this horrible repeal.
The irony in all this is that thousands and thousands of religious leaders don’t want to see the rule repealed. They’ve already signed a letter urging Congress to keep the Johnson Amendment in place. They want politics out of religion. They understand that they’re already free to speak about issues that matter to them, but they have no desire to tell their congregations who to vote for.
While atheist groups aren’t represented in that letter, the Secular Coalition for America and 10 of its member groups sent a letter to the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations last July saying roughly the same thing (even though we don’t have houses of worship). The atheists also pointed out that the likely repeal would be problematic because it gives churches — but not secular non-profits — a way to endorse candidates without losing tax exempt status. In other words, this would be a potential lawsuit waiting to happen.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)