By Noah Lanard, Mother Jones
Below is an excerpt. Read the full article on Mother Jones’s website.
Few adolescents who’ve sat through homilies would accuse priests or rabbis of lacking material. House Republicans beg to differ. Under their tax bill, religious institutions—and all nonprofits—would be able to endorse politicians for the first time since 1954.
The House tax cut plan would repeal a tax provision, known as the “Johnson Amendment,” that blocks churches and other nonprofits from electioneering. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), a nonpartisan Congressional body, expects that this change would lead to billions of dollars of political-spending being routed through nonprofits that can collect tax-deductible contributions without disclosing their donors. As a result, mega-donors like the Koch brothers would likely get tax write-offs for funding television ads and get-out-the-vote operations.
As proof that churches’ freedom of speech is threatened by current rules, Scalise points to the Church at Pierce Creek, a New York church that lost its nonprofit status over two decades ago. Amanda Tyler, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which works to defend the separation of church and state, says that case shows how much nonprofits can already do in the political realm. Under current law, nonprofits can say just about anything just as long as they don’t tell people who to vote for. Nevertheless, the Church at Pierce Creek took out a full-page ad in USA Today four days before the 1992 presidential election that asserted, “Bill Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws.” It concluded, “How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?” In 1995, the IRS revoked the church’s nonprofit status.
Along with interest groups, the other beneficiaries will be politicians and their funders. The Koch brothers can already spend unlimited money to influence elections. If the House bill becomes law, they’d be able to keep doing that while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. All to fix a free-speech issue that the vast majority of religious leaders don’t think exists. Tyler says there’s no substance to the claim that priests are living in fear of violating the current rules. “The reality just doesn’t reflect that story,” she adds. “I find that pastors feel incredibly free.”