Well, that didn’t take long.
Just hours after Donald Trump told the audience at the National Prayer Breakfast that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” Republican legislators have filed a bill to do just that. If passed, it would give pastors the ability to endorse candidates from the pulpit while keeping their tax-exempt status.
“Our Nation was built on the foundation that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are unalienable rights. For too long, the IRS has used the Johnson Amendment to silence and threaten religious institutions and charitable entities. As a minister who has experienced intimidation from the IRS firsthand, I know just how important it is to ensure that our churches and nonprofit organizations are allowed the same fundamental rights as every citizen of this great Nation. I’m proud that our legislation accomplishes just that, because America is stronger and better when all of our citizens are free to express their convictions. I am also heartened that President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to repealing Johnson at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast and look forward to working with him to make repeal a reality.”
As I wrote earlier, repealing the Johnson Amendment would be a horrible idea — not just for our society, but for the church, too. Religious organizations already have the luxury of not paying taxes, and one of the requirements of that perk (just as with all non=profits) is that they don’t get to endorse candidates for political office. They can speak out against marriage equality, abortion, sex education, evolution, etc. all they want… but pastors can’t tell their congregations, “Jesus wants you to vote for the Republican, so go do it.”
If the Amendment did get repealed, and churches became political arenas, it’s hard to think some churches would ever do anything but promote candidates. Every service would become an in-person political ad. I doubt that’s the game pastors want to play since they see their calling as being above petty politics.
Pastors could easily give up their tax exemptions and start directing people to the polls. There’s a reason they don’t do that. But conservative Christians want it both ways and Trump and his allies in Congress want to give it to them.
The Secular Coalition for America’s Larry Decker also explained why this is such a bad idea:
The repeal of the Johnson Amendment would unleash a new wave of dark money into the political system, effectively transforming houses of worship into the equivalent of religious Super PACS.
Incidentally, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) already filed a bill to repeal the Johnson Amendment on the first day of the new Congress. I guess we’re just ignoring that one now.