Yesterday, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations passed a version of the proposed budget bill that includes a provision gutting the Johnson Amendment and letting tax-exempt churches endorse candidates from the pulpit without consequences.
Forget Donald Trump‘s symbolic executive order from last month. This is the real deal — and it’s a disaster in the making.
The Secular Coalition for America and 10 of its member groups sent a letter to the committee this week urging them to reject the proposal. That didn’t work.
Last night, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) introduced an amendment that would straight-up eliminate Section 116 (the let’s-gut-the-Johnson-Amendment part) from the bill… but her proposal was voted down 24-28.
The SCA is now urging members of Congress to reject the bill as is:
“We’d like to thank Representative Wasserman Schultz and all those who voted in support of her amendment,” said [SCA Executive Director Larry T.] Decker. “What’s at stake is nothing less than the integrity of our political system. This is worth fighting for and we intend to do everything we can to stop this radical assertion of religious privilege. We urge members of Congress to join us in this fight.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State added:
“Majorities of all major American religious groups oppose efforts to bring tax-exempt houses of worship into the business of endorsing and opposing candidates,” said Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United. “We thank Rep. Wasserman-Schultz and the other House leaders who stood up today to fight so that churches aren’t used as political tools.”Garrett continued, “As this issue moves to the full House, we hope members of Congress are listening to faith and community leaders from all across the country who don’t want partisan political campaigns dividing their members.”
American Atheists’ National Program Director Nick Fish also expressed his disappointment with the committee’s actions and elaborated on what could happen if this bill is passed:
… With churches not required to file IRS Form 990 and still able to claim tax-exempt status and a tax deduction for their donors, this bill would turn churches into the new Super PACs with billions of dollars of untraceable and secret money flowing through religious groups and into elections, all while handing their donors a massive tax write-off.
The American people oppose this change. The nonprofit community opposes this change. Even the vast majority of religious groups oppose this change. So why is this being snuck through as a rider attached to a massive appropriations bill?
This is just one battle in the fight to protect the Johnson Amendment and there will be many more. It is a fight to protect the character of our nation’s nonprofit organizations, our houses of worship, and even the foundation of our political system. It’s a fight we must win.
As I’ve said before, this bill would be bad for politics and arguably worse for religion. There are plenty of Christians out there who don’t want to see their churches become arms of the Republican Party, which is exactly what would happen. They say their faith is more important than politics, but if their pastors could endorse candidates without punishment, those endorsements would never end. Why talk about Jesus when you can talk about [insert anti-abortion candidate here]?
The committee eventually passed the bill 31-21. It’s now up to the Republican-led House to do the right thing. Now there’s a sentence that inspires no confidence whatsoever.
(Screenshot via YouTube)