Pastors say they want to speak to their congregations about political candidates without fear of government threats to take away churches’ tax-exempt status.
The 62-year-old Johnson Amendment to the U.S. Tax Code bars or limits non-profits with tax-exempt status from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This law gives the IRS power to investigate churches, which pastors contend violates their First Amendment rights.
Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor at Hope Christian Church, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Christiana Holcomb, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), spoke at a press conference on Wednesday about the IRS investigating 99 churches.
Despite the ADF’s and Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information request to the IRS for records related to its procedures, the IRS hasn’t released this information.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise introduced a bill that would effectively repeal the Johnson Amendment, “The Free Speech Fairness Act of 2016.” From the Christian Post:
“For decades now, the Johnson Amendment has limited the ability for a lot of churches and religious organizations and nonprofits to express their views and to exercise their free speech rights and exercise the religious liberty that is one of the hallmarks of our Constitution,” Scalise said during a press conference at the United States Capitol on Wednesday.
“Under president Obama, the IRS formed a committee to aggressively go after churches and other religious organizations using the Johnson Amendment of 1954 to limit their free speech,” he continued. “Since then, we have identified 99 cases already where churches have been flagged for potential violations of the law. And, the federal government, through the IRS, is now going after churches.”
Perkins said the bill would not allow non-profit organizations to become “political operatives or fronts for political operations.”
Bishop Jackson spoke about a threat he received from the IRS. He’d invited liberal and conservative politicians to a Martin Luther King Day event hosted at his church. The government sent him a letter accusing him of breaking the law.
That is one reason why pastors participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 2, to defiantly speak about political candidates and issues from their pulpits.
“Why should the IRS have control of your pulpit?” the ADF site reads. “The IRS doesn’t feed the hungry. The IRS doesn’t comfort the hurting. And the IRS definitely doesn’t heal the broken. A pastor’s pulpit should be accountable to God alone, and the future of religious freedom in America depends on it. It’s time to put an end to the Johnson Amendment.”