For decades, churches in the United States have been prohibited from engaging in partisan politics.
The Johnson Amendment, named after then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson’s 1954 measure, prohibited certain nonprofit groups such as churches and charities with tax-exempt status from participating in politics.
That could change, however. The longstanding prohibition on political activities could be repealed as part of sweeping tax reform being tackled in Congress.
A tax bill passed by the U.S. House included a run on the Johnson Amendment, a move supported by President Trump and GOP allies. Such change wasn’t included in the U.S. Senate version, and shouldn’t be in the final product for a variety of reasons.
Possible bad fallout could see political groups try to set up bogus charities as a way to make tax-free political contributions. Churches and other nonprofits also could fall prey to aggressive political demands by donors.
Congressional experts say it could cost the U.S. government more than $2 billion over the next decade as political donors turn to tax-exempt charities.
Anonymous “dark money” political donations could become tax-deductible, allowing deep-pocketed donors such as the Koch brothers to further hide massive campaign spending from the public. (The 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on ads or other political tools that either support or attack candidates, with no requirement for disclosure.)
GOP lawmakers eyeing the Johnson Amendment also should know evangelical churches dominated by far-right Republicans already are engaging in questionable election-related activities. A number of churches in western Kansas that cater to ultraconservative parishioners would be a prime example.
Republicans should realize repeal of the Johnson Amendment could aid left-leaning political endeavors. Churches that cater to progressive parishioners and currently don’t engage in campaign activities would be free to do so.
Either way, it's unwelcome. Houses of worship should be free of partisan politics.
Efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment only brought more proof of the shortsightedness and fiscal irresponsibility from Republicans in charge in Washington, D.C. The notion has no place in the final version of an already reckless tax-reform plan.