Written by Don Byrd

[November 9 UPDATE: The bill is headed to the full House with a new amendment, making it “even worse than it began for the charitable community, including our houses of worship.” Read the press release here.]

More than 100 religious organizations and 4,200+ faith leaders from across the country have urged Congress to leave intact provisions of the tax code that protect houses of worship (and other tax-exempt organizations) from politicization. An amendment introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, heeded that call, but it failed in a vote along party lines on Wednesday. The amendment would have removed Section 5201 from the tax bill — a section that would effectively gut that longstanding protection in the law called, the “Johnson Amendment,” which protects houses of worship from partisanship and from candidates seeking endorsements. Lewis’ amendment would have restored the “standard that prohibits religious, nonprofit, charitable, and related organizations from engaging in political activities.” 

If you missed it, a few members of Congress spoke up for people of faith. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, quoted a few religious leaders, including BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler. You can watch the clip at this link or at the bottom of this post.  

In a new column published by The Hill today, Tyler and Tim Delaney, the President of the National Council of Nonprofits, explained the dangers of undoing the Johnson Amendment. Here is an excerpt:

If the proposed change is enacted, it will become Citizens United on steroids, opening the floodgates of financial “donations” to politicized religious institutions. The big differences are that the donations for disguised political activities would be tax-deductible and no longer disclosed to the public.

Some may claim that this is a First Amendment issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Existing law already allows charitable, religious and philanthropic organizations to talk about policy issues of the day. The law simply requires all 501(c)(3) organizations – in exchange for being able to accept tax-deductible donations tax-free – to avoid participating in partisan candidate campaigns in our official capacity. This bright-line rule has prevented government entanglement in the affairs of houses of worship.

 Read the whole thing.

What’s next? As Amanda Tyler tweeted, the “battle is not over.” The bill will head to the House floor next week, and tomorrow we may see what is in the Senate bill.

For more on this issue and why the Johnson Amendment is good for religious liberty, see the BJC’s resource page on the letter from 100+ religious groups and our resource page on the letter from thousands of faith leaders