Faith groups to Congress: Do not politicize our houses of worship

We focus on #CommunityNotCandidates

Faith groups at the Capitol on April 4, 2017A diverse group of 99 religious and denominational organizations are urging Congress to maintain current law that protects houses of worship and other religious nonprofit organizations from political pressure and additional dangers that come with endorsing and opposing candidates.

The coalition delivered a letter to House and Senate leaders April 4, reminding them that the current tax code safeguards “the integrity of our charitable sector and campaign finance system.” Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Sikh and groups representing many other faith traditions are united in this cause.

The letter, addressed to leaders of both parties and of the committees dealing with tax law, reminds Congress that houses of worship already can speak to issues, and leaders can endorse or oppose candidates in their personal capacity. “Current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity,” the letter states.

The groups are united against any calls to repeal or change the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” which has become shorthand for a provision in the tax code that applies to all 501(c)(3) organizations. Groups that choose that most-favored tax status must refrain from endorsing, opposing or financially supporting political candidates.

Polls consistently show that vast majorities of Americans and members of the clergy do not want tax-exempt nonprofits engaging in political campaigns. Most recently, Independent Sector’s March 2017 research revealed that 72 percent of all Americans want to keep the current law. The National Association of Evangelicals found that nearly 90 percent of evangelical leaders do not think pastors should endorse politicians from the pulpit in its February 2017 Evangelical Leaders Survey.

August 16 update: More than 4,000 faith leaders from all 50 states called on Congress to keep the Johnson Amendment. Visit BJConline.org/faith-voices for more. 

July 13 update: House Appropriations Committee approves funding bill that will expose houses of worship to political pressure; BJC joins more than 100 organizations opposing language; sends letter testimony and releases statement

TAKE ACTION: Join individual faith leaders speaking out at Faith-Voices.org

Religious leaders speak out

A broad section of America’s faith community is delivering a message loud and clear today: we don’t want and we don’t need a change in the tax law to pursue our mission. As soon as the church joins at the hip with a particular candidate or party, its prophetic witness – its ability to speak truth to power and not risk being co-opted by the government – is hindered.

Amanda Tyler

Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

The prohibition on partisan politics has strengthened the autonomy and religious freedom of houses of worship and people of faith. Separation of church and state means that in this country – in ways too rare elsewhere – people of all religious traditions have the ability to follow the teachings of their scripture. We strongly oppose any effort to undermine or repeal this crucial legal protection that makes our nation stronger.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Repealing the Johnson Amendment puts pulpits up for sale to partisan interests. It’s easy to imagine the local church council saying to the pastor, “We might as well take their money; you already agree with their position.” At that point, the sin of simony has been committed, and the Holy Spirit will not countenance it. Neither will the people of God in due time.

Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer

Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches

One wall in America that we people of faith are proud of is the one that separates church and state. The American Muslim community watches with dismay the use of religion by politicians in many countries and feels ​horrified​ by its disastrous consequences for all. ​In America, this wall has protected us from politicizing our houses of worship and prevented our pulpits from being dragged on to the political stump.  

​The role of faith is to inspire us with a sense of values and build alliances with others to stand for justice, peace and equity. It energizes us against hate and discrimination and promotes love and respect for the other​.

​We urge our  lawmakers to make sure that this healthy relationship between faith and politics is reinforced  for a healthy pluralist, prosperous, democratic America.

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed

National Director, Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America

Does the U.S. really need more politics in civil society? Congress should resist this effort to fix what is not broken. America has a vibrant civil society, in which every point of view on political issues large and small has opportunities for expression. There is no reason to fix what is not broken.

Jason Isaacson

Associate Executive Director of Policy, AJC

The church should truly be a sanctuary from political party division. In our gathered religious life, we pray and worship together; we celebrate and grieve together; and we study theology … thinking about how God is at work in our lives and in our community. By avoiding the endorsement of political candidates or parties, religious leaders allow the church pews to be a place for all who come seeking spiritual study, guidance, and fellowship. Although ministers do and should speak to issues that reflect on faith and justice, the mandate of not endorsing candidates and parties is essential to keeping our churches faithfully dedicated to God and God alone.

Rev. Terri Byrd

Coordinator, Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Clergy in this country have a powerful role to play in advocating for public policy positions. Nothing in the Johnson Amendment prevents that. What the amendment does do is prevent our tax-exempt houses of worship from being used for strictly partisan purposes – this is no different than any other tax-exempt charitable organization.

Rabbi Jack Moline

President, Interfaith Alliance

Faith guides us through our lives; it gives us strength, but also provides refuge. In allowing spiritual leaders to endorse political candidates, an element of that refuge is taken away. We need our places of worship to remain strongholds for our faith, not divisive platforms for pushing through political agendas.  

Not only does overturning the Johnson Amendment make our pulpits political, it also puts the social services of many Catholic institutions and churches at risk by endangering their tax status. Innocent people who need these services the most will suffer as a result.

Patrick Carolan

Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network

Partisan politics have no place in our pulpits. In fact, it’s the absence of that very thing — partisan politics — that gives us the power to speak with moral authority on issues of the day.

Suzii Paynter

Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Repealing the Johnson Amendment would be like Citizens United with an altar call. Pulpits don’t need to be for sale to the highest bidder. Churches can already exercise their First Amendment free speech rights.

Jennifer E. Copeland, Ph.D.

Executive Director, North Carolina Council of Churches

The church’s calling is to be a pillar and bulwark of truth not a political action committee. Weakening or eliminating protections in current law compromises our ability to be fulfill this calling.

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas

Editor of The Christian Citizen, American Baptist Home Mission Societies

The Johnson Amendment protects nonprofit organizations, ensuring that they will not be co-opted by partisan politics or used for political expedience, thus assuring the integrity of their work. For these reasons, Women of Reform Judaism opposes the repeal of this important provision of the tax code.

Rabbi Marla Feldman

Executive Director, Women of Reform Judaism

The Evergreen Baptist Association was founded on the principles of freedom, respect and diversity. The Johnson Amendment is supportive of these values.

Rev. Marcia J. Patton Ph.D.

Executive Minister, Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches

The Johnson Amendment is so important to our country as we seek to live together in religious diversity and harmony. It is also important to religious communities to keep them focused on their primary purpose and to not get distracted by the politics of the day. AWAB stands firm with all good people of faith supporting this historically important legislation of over sixty years ago.

David W. Key

National Board Chair-elect, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB)

The Johnson Amendment gives synagogues, churches and mosques the space to speak with moral authority and vision without partisan politics taking over the pulpit. A strong democracy depends on this kind of separation and clarity.

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman

Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

The Alliance of Baptists strongly opposes efforts to weaken bedrock U.S. constitutional protections of religious liberty, including the separation of church and state. A congregation’s prophetic integrity is weakened when it engages in factional partisan politics. We call on congressional leaders to protect existing law, safeguarding churches from the influence of external political forces, strengthening their independence and capacity for being objective spiritual and societal agents of change.

Rev. Jason Smith

Congregational Engagement Specialist, Alliance of Baptists

One of the worst things that could happen to the ministry of our congregations would be for churches to begin endorsing candidates. Churches are to be places where people come together for worship and ministry.  Partisan politics would divide congregations and place local pastors in impossible situations. This change would be extremely destructive for our ministry. 

Jim Hill

Executive Director, Churchnet

Endorsing organizations

 

African American Ministers in Action

Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Alliance of Baptists

American Baptist Churches USA

American Baptist Home Mission Societies

American Friends Service Committee

American Jewish Committee (AJC)

Anti-Defamation League

Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists

B’nai B’rith International

Baptist Fellowship Northeast

Baptist General Association of Virginia

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America ~ Bautistas por la Paz

Baptist Women in Ministry

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice

California Council of Churches IMPACT

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Christian Life Commission

Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church

Churchnet, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri

Colorado Council of Churches

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Heartland

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Kentucky

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia

Disciples Center for Public Witness

Ecumenical Catholic Communion

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon

The Episcopal Church

Equal Partners in Faith

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches

Faith Action Network- Washington State

Faith in Public Life

Faith Voices Arkansas

Faithful America

Florida Council of Churches

Franciscan Action Network

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.

Hindu American Foundation

Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas

Interfaith Alliance

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Islamic Networks Group

Islamic Society of North America

Jewish Community Relations Council, Greater Boston

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

The Jewish Federations of North America

Jewish Women International

Kentucky Council of Churches

Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Baptist Convention of America

National Council of Churches

National Council of Jewish Women

National Sikh Campaign

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New Baptist Covenant

North Carolina Council of Churches

Oklahoma Conference of Churches

Pastors for Oklahoma Kids

Pastors for Texas Children

Pax Christi, Montgomery County, MD chapters

Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office of Public Witness

Progressive National Baptist Convention

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly

Religions for Peace USA

Religious Institute

Rhode Island State Council of Churches

Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America

South Carolina Christian Action Council

South Dakota Faith in Public Life

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Texas Baptists Committed

Texas Faith Network

Texas Impact

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Association

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

Virginia Council of Churches

Women of Reform Judaism

Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)