For Immediate Release
April 4, 2017
Contact: Cherilyn Crowe / ccrowe@BJConline.org / 202-544-4226 / Cell: 202-670-5877

Religious groups to Congress: Do not politicize our pulpits by changing tax law

WASHINGTON – Today, 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 religiously and geographically diverse coalition is delivering a letter to House and Senate leaders 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.

“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,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “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.”

“The prohibition on partisan politics has strengthened the autonomy and religious freedom of houses of worship and people of faith,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “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.”

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.

“Most pastors know that endorsing candidates would divide their diverse congregations, distract from their core purpose, and dilute their message,” Tyler said. “All clergy can – and do – speak out on the great moral issues of the day, but encouraging houses of worship to intervene in campaigns with tax-deductible offerings would fundamentally change them. Churches are not political action committees, nor should they be.”

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.

The letter, a list of the 99 religious groups and quotes from other faith leaders are available online at BJConline.org/CommunityNotCandidates.

A group representing a cross-section of the organizations will hand-deliver letters to congressional leadership this morning. Follow the action on Twitter with the hashtag #CommunityNotCandidates.

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Based in Washington, D.C., the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is an 81-year-old organization working to defend religious freedom for all people and protect the institutional separation of church and state in the historic Baptist tradition. Learn more at BJConline.org.