Written by Don Byrd

The LATimes Editorial Board joined the chorus of those opposed to weakening the federal protection for houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations. In an editorial published on March 6, the board rightly warns that lawmakers are hoping to “smuggle” language into the omnibus spending bill that would cripple the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax exempt organizations from engaging in electoral politics.

Here is an excerpt from their argument against such a plan. Specifically, they take issue with the false claim that the Johnson Amendment silences the voices of clergy:

Actually, the Johnson Amendment doesn’t prevent churches from speaking about a wide array of political issues, and members of the clergy are even free to endorse candidates so long as they do so as individuals and not, for instance, from the pulpit as representatives of their church. Churches aren’t free as institutions to back or oppose candidates, but that’s a fair tradeoff for the financial benefits they receive from tax-exempt status.

They go on to note the dangers to houses of worship of removing the Johnson Amendment protections:

Repealing or neutering the Johnson Amendment would have been wrong at any time since its enactment. But it would be especially dangerous in the post-Citizens United environment in which churches identified with particular candidates could be turned into the religious equivalent of a political action committee, using contributions from the faithful to amplify the candidates’ message at church functions.

The Baptist Joint Committee has been a leader on this issue, opposing any effort to turn back this key provision in the law, and organizing grassroots support among people of faith for the principle that congregations are stronger and more autonomous when the machinery and divisiveness of politics is kept at arms’ length.

For more, see the BJC’s helpful resource page on the Johnson Amendment — including a timeline — and their page on the efforts from religious and denominational groups to keep the Johnson Amendment: Community, Not Candidates.