J is for the Johnson amendment

In the midst of the process of creating the massive tax bill at the end of 2017, the US Congress attempted to remove The Johnson Amendment. Fortunately, Congress’ own rules prevented from happening in that particular manner.

From the Wikipedia: It is “a provision in the U.S. tax code, since 1954, that prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. [These] organizations [range] from charitable foundations to universities and churches. The amendment is named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, [later the 36th President] who introduced it in a preliminary draft of the law in July 1954.”

Recent claims suggested that the provision was some sort of attack on the First Amendment’s freedom of religion and speech. Defenders of the Johnson amendment, including me, believe that when the churches and other nonprofit organizations that are exempt from taxation, the prohibition against “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office” is appropriate, for it would otherwise be the state establishing religion.

Now the law is fairly narrow in scope. “Nonpartisan voter education activities and church-organized voter registration drives are legal. Pastors are free to preach on social and political issues of concern. Churches can publish ‘issue guides’ for voters.” In other words, preachers can preach on feeding the poor and clothing the naked, and that a just society ought to be doing that.

As it turns out, the piece to quash the Johnson amendment in the December 2017 budget bill was blocked by the Senate parliamentarian. “Because of a requirement called the Byrd Rule, reconciliation bills — which are passed through a simple Senate majority — cannot contain ‘extraneous’ provisions that don’t primarily deal with fiscal policy.”

Nonreligious people have said for decades that we ought to be taxing the churches, and I disagree. But if a religious entity wants to engage in partisan politics, endorsing candidates, it should give up its tax-exempt status.

For ABC Wednesday

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