1. Letter
  2. Voting & Elections

145 Organizations Call on Congress to Protect Johnson Amendment

By Susan Nahvi, July 16, 2018


On July 16, FCNL and 144 other organizations sent a letter to Representatives Pete Sessions (TX-32) and James McGovern (MA- 2), respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member on the House Rules Committee. This letter urges them to support amendments in the appropriations bill would that protect the Johnson Amendment.

The Johnson Amendment ensures that tax-exempt nonprofits, including houses of worship, do not endorse or oppose political candidates. This upholds their integrity, protecting them from engaging in partisan politics and stopping the flow of more secret money into our elections. We urge the committee to make sure the amendments put forward by Representatives Wasserman Schultz (FL- 23) and Lewis (GA- 5) are ruled in order. These amendments strike language from the bill that undermines the Johnson Amendment.

Read the letter below:

Dear Chairman Sessions and Ranking Member McGovern:

The 145 undersigned organizations write to urge you to rule in order Wasserman Schultz Amendment #8 and Lewis Amendment #48 to strike the language in Section 112 of the House 2019 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. This provision would make it effectively impossible for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to enforce a long-standing federal law, sometimes referred to as the Johnson Amendment, insofar as it applies to houses of worship.

The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose candidates. Weakening current law would allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches for endorsements, dividing congregations, and opening them up to the flow of secret money. Americans do not want our charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics. We must keep this valuable safeguard that protects our houses of worship, our charitable and philanthropic organizations, and our political process.

Under the current law, which has been in place for the last six decades, houses of worship have maintained robust free speech rights and can speak out on any political and social issues that they see as important. They currently can engage in public debate on any issue, host candidate forums, hold voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls and even, with a few boundaries, lobby on specific legislation and invite candidates to speak. They simply cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office and maintain their special tax-exempt status.

Section 112 would make it very difficult for the IRS to investigate claims that churches have violated the law by requiring consent from the IRS Commissioner for each investigation and notification to two committees in Congress before such investigations commence. The first requirement would slow down, if not functionally halt, the pursuit of 501(c)(3) violations, while the second would only further politicize these law-enforcement investigations.

Additionally, although the current law applies to all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, Section 112 in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill would apply only to houses of worship. By giving houses of worship special treatment in the enforcement of IRS restrictions on intervention in political campaigns, the amendment raises serious concerns under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and undermines religious freedom.

Opposition to the repeal or weakening of the Johnson Amendment is overwhelming: 106 religious and denominational organizations, more than 5,800 charitable nonprofit organizations, more than 4,500 faith leaders, and state charities officials5 have all written to Congress to urge it to protect the Johnson Amendment.

We firmly urge you to rule in order the Wasserman Schultz Amendment #8 and Lewis Amendment #48 to remove Section 112 because it would weaken the law that protects houses of worship and other charitable nonprofits.

Sincerely,

Action on Smoking and Health

The Afiya Center

African American Ministers In Action

African Methodist Episcopal Church

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Agricultural-Natural Resources Trust

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

Alliance of Baptists

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Atheists

American Baptist Churches USA

American Baptist Home Mission Societies

American Conference of Academic Deans

American Conference of Cantors

American Council on Education

American Family Voices

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

American Humanist Association

American Jewish Committee (AJC)

American Society of Association Executives

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Anti-Defamation League

The Arc of the United States

The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.

Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB)

The Atlantic Foundation

Autism Society of America

Baptist Center for Ethics

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

Baptist Women in Ministry

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

B’nai B’rith International

BoardSource

The Bright Lines Project

Burlesque Hall of Fame

Catholics for Choice

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Effective Philanthropy

Center for Faith and Giving

Center for Inquiry

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Center on Conscience & War

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Council for Global Equality

Council on Foundations

Democracy 21

Disciples Center for Public Witness

Disciples Justice Action Network

The Episcopal Church

End Citizens United

Equal Partners in Faith

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Every Voice

Forum for Youth Investment

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Friends of the Earth

Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

Girls Inc.

Greenpeace USA

Habitat for Humanity International

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.

The Henry Ford

Hindu American Foundation

Hindu Mandirs Executives' Conference

Hip Hop Caucus

Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings

Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation

Human Rights Campaign

Impact Fund

Independent Sector

Interfaith Alliance

Institute for Science and Human Values

Islamic Networks Group

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

The Jewish Federations of North America

JWI

Keshet

Land Trust Alliance

Lymphoma Foundation of America

Management Assistance Group

Medical Students for Choice

Men of Reform Judaism

MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Morino Institute

Music Medicine Institute

Muslim Public Affairs Council

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National African American Clergy Network

National Association of Charitable Gift Planners

National Benevolent Association

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

National Council of Churches

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council of Nonprofits

National Employment Law Project

National Human Services Assembly

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies

New Baptist Covenant

New Ways Ministry

Nonprofit Leadership Alliance

North American Bramble Growers Research Foundation

North Side Action & Resistance (Indivisible)

Nursing Students for Sexual & Reproductive Health

Partnership for America's Children

Pension Fund of the Christian Church

People For the American Way

Phillips Theological Seminary

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Public Citizen

Rachel Carson Council

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Religious Institute

Rootstrikers Project at Demand Progress

Secular Coalition for America

Senior Executives Association (SEA)

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Association

United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministry

United Philanthropy Forum

U.S. PIRG

Vibrant America, Inc.

Voices for Progress

Volunteers of America

WasteWater Education

Women of Reform Judaism

Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)

Youth Advocate Programs

YWCA USA

To view a PDF of the full letter with footnotes, please click below.

Susan Nahvi

  • Program Assistant, Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Susan Nahvi advocates on behalf of FCNL in the area of Human Rights and Civil Liberties. She concentrates on several issues, including the Muslim travel ban, Islamophobia, and Syrian refugees. She writes articles that appear on FCNL’s website, lobbies members of Congress, and supports the work of Legislative Director Yasmine Taeb.