Written by Don Byrd

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and 98 other religious organizations have signed a letter opposing the repeal of the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” and it is being hand-delivered to members of Congress today.

“Johnson Amendment” has become shorthand for the IRS regulation that forbids 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from engaging in campaign activity for or against candidates for public office as a condition of their tax exemption. Houses of worship already can speak to issues, and leaders can endorse or oppose candidates in their personal capacity. As the letter points out, “Current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity.”

Signatories to the letter, which you can read here, urge Congress to keep that measure in place. Here is an excerpt explaining part of their reasoning why houses of worship should not be politicized:

Houses of worship often speak out on issues of justice and morality and do good works within the community but may also labor to adequately fund their ministries. Permitting electioneering in churches would give partisan groups incentive to use congregations as a conduit for political activity and expenditures. Changing the law would also make them vulnerable to individuals and corporations who could offer large donations or a politician promising social service contracts in exchange for taking a position on a candidate. . . . 

The charitable sector, particularly houses of worship, should not become another cog in a political machine or another loophole in campaign finance laws. We strongly urge you to oppose any efforts to repeal or weaken protections in the law for 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship.

As the BJC’s Amanda Tyler said in today’s news release, “[W]e don’t want and we don’t need a change in the tax law to pursue our mission.”

You can read comments from other religious leaders, including many Baptists, on a page dedicated to the effort: BJConline.org/CommunityNotCandidates.

A cross-section of leaders representing the groups who signed are the ones taking the letter over to Congress, and photos will be available later today. Follow the action — and join in — with the hashtag #CommunityNotCandidates.

Read the entire letter, view the list of signatories, and see additional information on this topic at the Baptist Joint Committee’s resource page.