By Bob Allen // Baptist News Global
The head of a Baptist religious liberty coalition welcomed news Dec. 14 that language allowing churches and other charities to endorse candidates and engage in partisan politics is no longer included in a tax bill making its way through Congress.
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, called removal of language in the final tax bill undermining the so-called Johnson Amendment “a big win for churches, synagogues, mosques, other 501(c)(3) organizations and those who rely on them.”
“If this tax bill passes, one thing Americans won’t have to worry about is whether their house of worship or local charitable nonprofit will be turned into a PAC,” Tyler said.
The Baptist Joint Committee, a Washington-based organization supported by 15 Baptist bodies in the United States and thousands of churches and individuals across the country, has opposed efforts to drop the provision added to the tax code in 1954. President Trump had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
According to Washington media, the Senate parliamentarian determined the inclusion of the Johnson Amendment repeal did not meet Senate rules that require elements of the tax bill to have something to do with the budget.
Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the Johnson Amendment “has broad public support, including from faith leaders, charitable nonprofits, Republicans and evangelical Christians.”
“The American people have made it clear that they don’t want tax-exempt organizations, especially houses of worship, to be embroiled in divisive political campaigns,” Garrett said. “That’s why people across the country, including leaders from the nonprofit and faith communities, stood up to tell Congress to protect the Johnson Amendment.”
Americans United and the Baptist Joint Committee were lead sponsors of a letter signed by more than 4,300 faith leaders across the country opposing efforts to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment.
The Faith Voices coalition — which also included the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and New Baptist Covenant — said the law protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics and that changing it would threaten the integrity and independence of churches.
Tyler, an attorney and former Congressional aide, said the “troubling change” to the huge tax bill was put on a fast track in hopes that those affected would not notice in time to oppose it.
“Fortunately, as more Americans learned of the proposal and its likely impact, they raised their voices — calling and writing their representatives and senators, sharing concerns with their neighbors through local and social media, and joining thousands of faith leaders at Faith-Voices.org,” she said.