5 Insights on Repairing the Johnson Amendment

At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Trump said that he will “get rid of, and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” which limits free speech by prohibiting nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing a political candidate, under threat of losing their tax-exempt status. Although there have been rumors of an outright repeal in line with the president’s declaration, the currently proposed “fix” to the Johnson Amendment is the Free Speech Fairness Act, endorsed by House Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) with 18 cosponsors and was introduced before the election. The Johnson Amendment was enacted in 1954 in effort to prevent 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in any political activity. Though no church has significantly gotten in trouble with the law, it has chilled pastors from being able to practice free speech from the pulpit. There are certainly different viewpoints on whether pastors should preach about politics at all, but despite that debate, the government has no right to regulate churches or pastors’ free speech. And as government has grown, it has, in some cases, pushed pastors out of areas where the Bible indicates they should teach such as marriage, abortion, and homosexual conduct. For churches and other charitable nonprofit organizations that want to be able to inform and educate their members, this new act would allow them to do as long as it’s done within the course of their usual activities. Here are five things to know about the Free Speech Fairness Act:

  1. The Johnson Amendment applies to any 501(c)(3) organization, not just churches. The Free Speech Fairness Act would directly amend the Internal Revenue Code, or United States tax law to allow charitable organizations to engage in political activity.
  2. The FSFA would permit nonprofit organizations to make certain statements regarding political campaigns without the threat of losing their tax-exempt status.
  3. Pastors would be able to advocate for or against a political candidate in the course of his/her ordinary function such as preaching. Pastors should do so or encourage their congregations to discuss the issues during campaign season.
  4. The political activity can be done as long as the church doesn’t spend more than “de minimis incremental expenses,” an insignificant amount. The church, for example, could not contribute to political campaigns.
  5. If and when the amendment passes it would apply the year following its enactment.

Right now in Illinois, John Shimkus, Representative of 15th District is a cosponsor on the bill. To take action in moving it forward, contact your congressmen and let them know you support H. R. 781. Click here to find and contact your representative. You can watch the amendment’s progress here.

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