Written by Don Byrd
As I posted yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee rejected an amendment to the tax bill that would have removed a troubling provision (Section 5201) undermining a key protection for houses of worship in the tax code known as the “Johnson Amendment.” Since then, the Committee approved another amendment that makes Section 5201 even more sweeping in its impact on non-profit organizations including houses of worship.
The original tax bill included language exempting churches from the requirement that they refrain from political endorsements to maintain their tax-exempt status, despite opposition from more than 100 religious organizations and 4200+ faith leaders. Instead of removing that section, today’s amendment included a change that would exempt all 501(c)(3) organizations from the rule. As the Baptist Joint Committee’s Amanda Tyler explained in a statement issued today, that is a huge step backward.
The tax bill headed to the full House comes out of committee even worse than it began for the charitable community, including our houses of worship. After a last-minute amendment, now the entire 501(c)(3) sector can be used by partisan campaigns and by donors looking for a tax deduction for their campaign contributions. Though the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars may seem small in the context of the larger bill, the impact of this change on our religious communities, nonprofits, and campaign finance system may be seismic..
As Tyler has made clear (see her testimony submitted to Congress and her column published in The Hill), the Johnson Amendment protects congregations from division, politicization, and exploitation by candidates for elected office and the money that routinely follows them. In short, repealing or weakening that protection is no benefit to houses of worship or religious liberty. And as she indicates, this development, inviting billions in tax deductible campaign contributions, is no friend of either the taxpayer or the financial integrity of our political process.
Section 5201 as amended now moves to the full U.S. House as part of the tax bill. The Senate is expected to release their own tax bill soon.
For more on this issue and why the Johnson Amendment is good for religious liberty, see the BJC’s resource page.