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Why Trump Really Wants To “Destroy” The Johnson Amendment

By Susan Kuebler

During this week’s National Prayer Breakfast meeting, Donald Trump once again brought up his promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment.  He places this argument in the context of freedom of religion “the right to worship according to our own beliefs” and freedom of speech – that pastors should be able to say whatever they want from the pulpit.  This is a pitch that has been sold to some, but not all, of the evangelical churches.

The answer to Trump’s argument is simple.  Horse puckey.  The Johnson Amendment is part of the tax code that applies to ALL 501(c) 3 non-profit organizations.  It’s been on the books since 1954 when it was introduced by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson.  According to the Washington Post, in the 63 years since it’s passage, the IRS has “only investigated once and did not punish in that case…”   This is despite the activities for several years by more than 2,000 pastors who have joined in a movement they call “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” to test the limits of the law.

So why, if this is a code that is rarely investigated, let alone enforced, would Trump and some churches want it abolished?   It’s quite simple actually.  It’s not about restraining pastors from saying whatever they wish from the pulpit, it’s not a restraint on freedom of religion – its all about the $$$$.  Were the Johnson Amendment eliminated, something, by the way, that only Congress not Donald Trump can do, churches would be able to maintain their tax-free status AND raise money for the candidates they support.  In other words, our houses of worship would become SuperPACs.  In reality, they would become SuperDuperPACs because parishioners could donate money to their churches to support a particular candidate and still take a tax deduction for their contribution.

But most religious organizations, including conservative ones, are just fine with the way things are now.  Following Trump’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty issued the following statement:

“Politicizing churches does them no favors.  The promised repeal is an attack on the integrity of both our charitable organizations and campaign finance system.  Inviting churches to intervene in campaigns with tax-deductible offerings would fundamentally change our houses of worship.  It would usher our partisan divisions into the pews and harm the church’s ability to provide refuge.”

Anyone who is active in their own church knows there are more than enough topics to keep the congregation divided without throwing which political candidate to support into the mix.  What are we going to end up with – Democrats sitting in the pews to the left of the aisle, Republicans on the right and Independents relegated to the balconies?

Neither religious liberty nor freedom of speech is under attack here.  The only attack that comes to mind is the one of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple for putting money ahead of prayer.

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About techgirl1951 (291 Articles)
"All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well". Julian of Norwich.

3 Comments on Why Trump Really Wants To “Destroy” The Johnson Amendment

  1. It just doesn’t make sense to repeal the Johnson Act. The only people I see benefiting from this are the already wealthy politicians that would receive funds from 501(c)3 organizations. Why would anyone donate directly to a politician (non-tax-deductible) when they can donate to a non-profit organization that will in turn donate to their supported and intended politician (tax-deductible). It’s a rabbit hole change that would cause changes to several other laws regarding political systems of donation and campaign funding.

  2. I already have issues galore with churches and their tax-exempt status (surprised more people haven’t taken advantage with loosely-religious affiliations over time, really), but THIS–oh, hell no! Too many megachurches and rich congregations have been using their protected religious status to attempt change based along religious lines. There must be a separation between church and state, because though we are a predominately Christian country, how many denominations are vying for money and influence? Which one would we be forced to cater to if they got the most influence in government?

    You know, I’m not up on my legislation–there’s been so much created, amended, and revoked I could never keep track. So thanks for this. there’s a damned good reason this one’s on the books, though…and it needs to stay.

    • techgirl1951 // February 3, 2017 at 8:47 pm // Reply

      As a practicing Christian, I agree with you 100%. This law has been in the books for 63 years and I haven’t seen any pastors suffering. You are also quite right about the influence of the mega-churches.

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