Johnson Amendment Challenge
ACTION ALERT! House of Representatives Bill Threatens Non-Profit Nonpartisanship

Contact your Congressional Representative to Urge Church Electioneering Provision be Removed from Appropriations Bill

Updated 7/28/2017

Despite considerable opposition from non-profit, philanthropic and religious organizations, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on July 13 advanced an appropriations package that includes a rider that would severely undermine the nonpartisanship of the 501(c)(3) community by making it much harder for the IRS to enforce laws prohibiting electioneering by houses of worship.  

An effort to strike the rider from the bill failed by a 24-28 vote. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), the Appropriations Committee chairperson and its only New Jersey member, voted against the effort to delete the rider from the bill.

The measure now moves to the full House of Representatives for consideration, which could happen at any time.

ACTION NEEDED:

  1. Contact your Congressional Representative and urge them to preserve the nonpartisanship of the entire charitable, religious and philanthropic community and to strip the Johnson Amendment rider (Section 116) from the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill.

  2. Join with more than 5,300 organizations nationwide in signing the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship. The letter has been re-opened for additional signatures, so if you didn't sign before, now's your chance!

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

 

Background about Non-Profit Nonpartisanship, The Johnson Amendment, and Section 116

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 earlier this year designed to limit its enforcement against religious organizations.

Section 116 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2018 would undermine the protections of the Johnson Amendment even further by preventing the use of funds by IRS from making a determination of electioneering against a house of worship or its affiliate, unless:

  1. The IRS commissioner formally signs off on a determination that a house of worship engaged in prohibited political activity; and
  2. The IRS informs the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee within 30 days of such a determination; and
  3. The determination does not take effect sooner than 90 days after the notification of the House and Senate committees.

Notably, Section 116 makes no attempt to relax the ban on nonpartisanship for secular organizations. The extra restrictions on the investigative capabilities and authority of the IRS would apply only to investigations of alleged electioneering violations by houses of worship and their affiliates, creating a framework that, regardless of the severity of the violation, explicitly encourages selective enforcement of the law.

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 3,500 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.”
  • Nearly 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 5,300 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, as Section 116 would do, would divide congregations and make them vulnerable to a host of pressures from unscrupulous political operatives, and would further confuse the public about the missions and motivations of all 501(c)(3) organizations. The resulting damage to the integrity of the entire charitable, religious and philanthropic community would be significant and long-lasting.

Section 116 should be removed from the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2018 and should not be enacted.

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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