Johnson Amendment Challenge
ACTION ALERT! Tell Congress: Oppose any Attempts to Weaken Non-Profit Nonpartisanship in Appropriations Process

Updated 2/27/2018

Your voice is needed again – now – to protect the Johnson Amendment, the 60+-year-old law that allows 501(c)(3) organizations to work in communities free from partisan pressures, divisions, and interference. Those who seek to politicize 501(c)(3) organizations are back, vowing to have their way on the next bill coming through Congress. Take action to protect the Johnson Amendment and tell Congress not to change this vital and longstanding law.

Last year, the White House and some well-funded special interests aggressively lobbied Congress and came dangerously close to gutting the Johnson Amendment. Only strong, united and persistent advocacy helped to defeat these harmful proposals. Unfortunately, the attempt to insert partisan political electioneering into our charities, houses of worship, and foundations, is threatening to resurface again.

In early March, Members of Congress will be writing a bill to fund the government through the rest of the current fiscal year (through the end of September) and potentially address scores of other issues. By most accounts, this “omnibus spending bill” could be the last significant piece of legislation that works its way through Congress before the mid-term elections in November. For that reason, the bill is attracting many extremely controversial issues – like anti-Johnson Amendment language – that likely could never pass as free-standing bills. The legislation must be passed by March 23, but Congressional leaders are negotiating right now about what will and will not go into the bill.

Small but extremely powerful factions of politicians and well-funded partisan interests in Washington, DC, are redoubling their efforts to repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment, and they are now looking to the omnibus spending bill as their best chance.


  1. Contact your Congressional Representative and both U.S. Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker. Calls from constituents of Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, are especially important.

    Dial 202-225-3121 and follow the prompts to be connected to your Senator's/Representative’s office.

    Tell them:
    “The overwhelming majority of non-profits, faith leaders, regulators and the American people strongly support the Johnson Amendment, the longstanding law that protects charitable organizations, houses of worship, and foundations from divisive, partisan politics. We urge you to oppose any attempt to attach a rider to the omnibus spending bill that would repeal or weaken the Johnson Amendment. Non-profits are counting on the [Representative/Senator] to protect non-profit nonpartisanship.”

    NOTE: Studies show that calls to congressional offices are the most effective means of constituent advocacy – so make the calls first before taking other actions.

  2. Tweet your Representatives and Senators: A list of New Jersey’s U.S. Senators and Representatives with their twitter handles is here. One sample: .@[Representative’s/Senator’s Twitter Handle] No anti-Johnson Amendment rider on the omnibus spending bill. Let #nonprofits focus on #CommunityNotCandidates. Maintain #JohnsonAmendment Here are some additional sample tweets for you to use or to give you inspiration.

  3. Sign the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship, if your organization hasn’t already, and forward the link to colleague organizations and encourage their support. More than 5,600 charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations have joined this letter in calling on Members of Congress to oppose “efforts to weaken and/or repeal the current law that for six decades has successfully protected the integrity and effectiveness of charitable nonprofits and foundations by keeping them apart from partisan politics.” Read the letter and see who has already signed. You can also download the Community Letters addressed to NJ’s U.S. Representatives and Senators, make copies and email them to your elected officials with a note about why nonpartisanship is so important to your organization and the people you serve. Go here to access your Representative's and Senators’ email contacts.

  4. Write an op-ed or letter to the editor of your local newspaper. An article doesn’t have to be in the biggest newspaper in the state to get the attention of Representatives and Senators. They read the clips from all their local papers, including from the small and weekly publications, and especially when their names are included in the articles. Newspapers have published the views of hundreds of people from non-profits who have written on behalf of the Johnson Amendment and the importance of nonpartisanship. Take a look at a sampling of op-eds and letters to editors from across the country.

  5. Share this alert with your colleagues and encourage them to act as well.  

A few short minutes can make the difference in preserving the ability of non-profits to solve community problems free from partisan pressures and interference. If you have questions or need additional information, contact us at the Center.

Background about Non-Profit Nonpartisanship and The Johnson Amendment

Since 1954, tax law has contained a provision prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from directly or indirectly attempting to influence the election or defeat of any candidate for public office. This ban, also known as the Johnson Amendment for its sponsor, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, applies not only to churches but to all 501(c)(3) organizations including public charities and private foundations. President Trump has vowed repeatedly to do away with the Johnson Amendment, and signed an executive order in early 2017 designed to limit its enforcement against religious organizations.

Thanks to strong and persistent advocacy by non-profits, faith leaders and their champions, efforts to gut the Johnson amendment as part of the 2017 federal tax reform bill  failed in the U.S. Senate. But those who seek to do away with nonpartisan protections for non-profits have vowed to try again.

A hallmark of the charitable, religious and philanthropic communities is our ability to unify stakeholders and tackle important problems without regard to partisan labels. In fact, polls have consistently found that the vast majority of Americans and charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations firmly believe that 501(c)(3) organizations should stay away from raw partisan politics:

  • Nearly three out of four American voters (72 percent) want to keep current rules protecting 501(c)(3) organizations from partisan political activity, according to a poll conducted in March 2017.
  • 89 percent of evangelical pastors oppose the idea of clergy mixing partisan politics and religion by endorsing candidates from the pulpit, according to a survey conducted in February 2017 by the National Association of Evangelicals.
  • More than 4,000 religious leaders (so far) have signed a letter declaring they are “strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics,” in part because “issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact of congregational unity and civil discourse.”
  • More than 100 national and state religious and denominational organizations signed a letter to Congress stressing: “People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord.”
  • So far, more than 5,600 charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations from all 50 states have signed the Community Letter in Support of Nonprofit Nonpartisanship, demonstrating strong opposition to proposals to politicize our community by repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment, in part because “nonpartisanship is a cornerstone principle that has strengthened the public’s trust” of the charitable community by screening out “doubts and suspicions regarding ulterior partisan motives … as undoubtedly would occur if even just a few charitable organizations engaged in partisan politics.”

Encouraging political speech by exempt organizations would divide organizations, make them vulnerable to a host of pressures from unscrupulous political operatives, and would exacerbate the influence of "dark money" in our electoral process. The resulting damage to the integrity of the entire charitable, religious and philanthropic community would be significant and long-lasting.  Protecting non-profit nonpartisanship is vital to our community fabric and to our democracy.

Additional Resources:

If you have questions or need more information about this bill or non-profit advocacy and nonpartisanship generally, contact us at the Center.


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