Written by Don Byrd
Back in May – on the “National Day of Prayer,” to be exact – President Trump signed an Executive Order that he suggested enhanced the ability of houses of worship to engage in electoral politics despite receiving tax-exempt status, which carries a ban on electioneering.
The action seemed clearly aligned with the President’s campaign pledge to repeal the “Johnson Amendment,” the law prohibiting tax-exempt organizations like churches from campaigning on behalf of political candidates. On closer look, however, many observers concluded the action did not substantively change current policy. The Baptist Joint Committee’s Executive Director, Amanda Tyler, for example, called it a “largely symbolic act.”
After filings in a lawsuit last week, it appears the Trump Administration’s own Justice Department agrees that the President’s Order had no real impact. In response to a claim that the Order violates the Constitution by favoring religion over nonreligion, lawyers defending the President’s action said essentially that it merely leaves the status quo intact.
The Washington Post reports:
In Tuesday’s brief, government lawyers asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs “misunderstand the Order’s purpose and effect.”
“The Order does not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations,” the filing read. “Rather, the order directs the Government not to take adverse action against religious organizations that it would not take against other organizations in the enforcement of these restrictions.”
That, of course, is already the way the law is supposed to operate.
Meanwhile, a proposal in Congress that would actually cripple IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment remains attached to a government funding bill winding its way through the legislative process.
The Baptist Joint Committee has long opposed attempts to weaken this key provision protecting churches from politicization. The Johnson Amendment safeguards both the autonomy of our churches and the integrity of our campaign finance system. To make your voice heard and urge Congress to leave the Johnson Amendment intact, sign the faith-voices.org letter, already signed by more than 4,000 faith leaders across the country.
For more, see the BJC’s “Community Not Candidates” resource page.