We respectfully disagree with Attorney General Josh Hawley’s opposition to the Johnson Amendment, a federal tax code ban on religious and other nonprofit organizations endorsing/opposing political candidates.
Hawley is the Republican nominee hoping to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in the November election. McCaskill opposes repeal of the Johnson Amendment.
Under the amendment, tax-exempt entities such as churches and charities cannot directly or indirectly support or oppose political candidates. This means ministers can’t endorse/oppose candidates during church without risking fines and loss of their tax-exempt status.
In an Associated Press story last week, Hawley said, “The government shouldn’t be telling pastors what they can and can’t say from their pulpit.
“In the history of this nation, there has been no greater force for good than the preaching of pastors and the speech of religious believers.”
He said Democrats, including his opponent, “need to stop trying to muzzle people of faith.”
The Johnson Amendment was enacted in 1954 by a Republican president and a Republican Congress, after being added to a bill about the Internal Revenue Service by future president and then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas Democrat.
It wasn’t debated and created an important separation of church and state, and the need for it hasn’t diminished over the years.
Repeal of the Johnson Amendment would allow political organizations/donors to use churches as dark-money pipelines, because they, as 501(c)(3) organizations, don’t have to disclose their donors.
The anti-Johnson Amendment sentiment caters to some religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, who oppose the amendment, saying it limits their free speech.
It doesn’t limit their speech. What it says is if you play politics, you can’t be exempt from taxes. You can’t have it both ways.
Many religious leaders recognize having it both ways would not be in their best interest and that the Johnson Amendment actually protects them.
Without it, religious organizations would be subject to political influence, which would distract — even undermine — their core mission. If churches are allowed to become intertwined with politics, their followers could lose faith in them.
Repealing the Johnson Amendment would be bad for politics, bad for churches and bad for America.
Copyright Jefferson City News-Tribune. Reprinted with permission.