Should the Johnson Amendment be Repealed?

President Trump has vowed to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, meaning of course, he’s intent on Congress repealing the language that prevents churches from directly participating in political activities.

The Johnson Amendment is language added to bill in the 1954 IRS code that prohibits all 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in certain political activities.

A 501(c)(3) is a non-profit, tax excempt organization.The other benefit is that people that donate to them may also take a tax deduction for same donation(s). What constitutes a non-profit? Every organization that can qualify, through the IRS as a charity. Of course churches do, as well as others. Think about animal rights groups, organizations that provide help to disabled veterans. There’s a wide range. Yes, even some political advocacy groups may qualify. If you’re unsure of what qualifies, think about commercials you’ve seen on television that say “Send your tax deductible donation to…. That’s a 501(c) (3).

THe amendment is named for then senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, from Texas, later to become our 36th President (He was John F. Kennedy’s Vice President).Why did he add the language? Well, his motives were not pure of course as you may suspect. He had at the time a political opponent in Texas that was endorsed by these same non-profits.

The amendment passed in both houses of Congress without debate.

The amendment prohibits any non-profit from endorsing or opposing a speicif candidate. That’s it. It’s buried in the actuall bill, it’s in paragraph (3), subsection (c), within section 501 (that deals with non-profits) of Title 28 (IRS Code). Whew, that was a lot! The paragraph mentioned above states:

(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, 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), or for 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, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), 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.

The bolded portion is known as the Johnson Amendment. Notice it doesn’t specify any particular non-profit, but includes all non-profits.

These non-profits recieve the largesse of the U.S taxpayer, and yes, even at the state level. They can file for the same status in their home states. They can also get an exemption from paying sales taxes on certain purchases, e.g., office or building maintenance, office supplies.

A few years ago, I remember seeing a pastor on television vowing to disobey the law and not be follow the Johnson Amendment. I actually don’t know if any are actively doing this, but if they are, they shoud lose their non-profit status.

Why is the Johnson Amendment good? In the case of churches, it draws a brighter line between religion and government. The churches argument is that before the amendment was passed, for over a 150 years, pastors were able to endorse or oppose specific candidates based on biblical principles.

How much influence that had on elections is really unknown. It seems to me though that these pastors believe that their congregations need to be instructed on whom they should vote for in elections. As of they were sheep. I think people are smarter than that, and always have been. We don’t need churches, or any other non-profit for that matter telling us who we need to vote for in local, state, or federal elections.

Leave the Johnson Amendment alone.


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