Faith groups to Congress: Do not politicize our houses of worship
We focus on #CommunityNotCandidates
A diverse group of more than 100 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, 2017, 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.
TAKE ACTION: Join individual faith leaders speaking out at Faith-Voices.org
UPDATE March 21, 2018: Churches can “breathe a sigh of relief” that omnibus bill does not repeal Johnson Amendment
Nov. 28: Listen to BJC’s Amanda Tyler discuss the Johnson Amendment on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook.
August 16, 2017: More than 4,000 faith leaders from all 50 states ask to keep the Johnson Amendment.
July 13, 2017: 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Evergreen Baptist Association was founded on the principles of freedom, respect and diversity. The Johnson Amendment is supportive of these values.
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.
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.
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.
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.
African American Ministers in Action
African Methodist Episcopal Church – Social Action Commission
Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Alliance of Baptists
American Baptist Churches USA
American Baptist Home Mission Societies
American Friends Service Committee
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
B’nai B’rith International
Baptist Center for Ethics
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 for Choice
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 South Carolina
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship West
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
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
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
Rhode Island State Council of Churches
Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America
Soka Gakkai International-USA Buddhist Association
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
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
Wisconsin Council of Churches
Women of Reform Judaism
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)