By Associate General Counsel Jennifer Hawks
People of faith have an opportunity to tell Congress they want to protect houses of worship from the dangers that come with candidate endorsements.
In April, the Baptist Joint Committee led a diverse coalition of 99 national and state religious organizations in asking Congress to keep the law that prevents houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan campaigning. Now Congress needs to hear from you.
Visit Faith-Voices.org to add your name to the growing list of people of faith standing up for the integrity and independence of houses of worship. This letter for individuals is open to all religious leaders, including pastors, deacons, small group leaders, professors, lay leaders and others.
Current law, which can only be changed by an act of Congress, strikes the right balance. It permits pastors to campaign for or against any political candidate of their choosing and it permits our houses of worship to engage in a wide range of issue-based advocacy (including speaking out on political issues, running voter registration drives, encouraging voting and hosting candidate forums). But, it does not permit any 501(c)(3) organization — including houses of worship — from using tax-deductible dollars to tell people who to vote for or against or to contribute to a candidate’s campaign. It also protects these organizations from candidates seeking endorsements.
It is vitally important that the entire charitable sector, including our houses of worship, not be reduced to cogs in the political machine. At press time, more than 2,000 people have signed the letter at Faith-Voices.org. Please join us in asking Congress to keep the current law in place. The full text of the letter is below:
As a leader in my religious community, I am strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics. Changing the law would threaten the integrity and independence of houses of worship. We must not allow our sacred spaces to be transformed into spaces used to endorse or oppose political candidates.
Faith leaders are called to speak truth to power, and we cannot do so if we are merely cogs in partisan political machines. The prophetic role of faith communities necessitates that we retain our independent voice. Current law respects this independence and strikes the right balance: houses of worship that enjoy favored tax-exempt status may engage in advocacy to address moral and political issues, but they cannot tell people who to vote for or against. Nothing in current law, however, prohibits me from endorsing or opposing political candidates in my own personal capacity.
Changing the law to repeal or weaken the “Johnson Amendment” – the section of the tax code that prevents tax-exempt nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates – would harm houses of worship, which are not identified or divided by partisan lines. Particularly in today’s political climate, engaging in partisan politics and issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact on congregational unity and civil discourse.
I therefore urge you to oppose any repeal or weakening of the Johnson Amendment, thereby protecting the independence and integrity of houses of worship and other religious organizations in the charitable sector.