Getting rid of Johnson Amendment about more than religion

Published 10:56 pm Sunday, December 3, 2017

By Mark Silk

Religion News Service

To listen to both sides, the effort to do away with the Johnson Amendment is all about religion. “Pulpit freedom!” cry the proponents. “Religious politicization!” the opponents cry back.

But the hue and cry has obscured the pervasiveness and insidiousness of what’s really going on. The tax bill passed by the House of Representatives scuttles the Johnson Amendment in a way that would change the landscape for the entire nonprofit world.

The bill’s original language was narrowly tailored to permit a pastor to include a political endorsement in a sermon if she so wished. It was actually about pulpit freedom (to politick) — and, in truth, of minor consequence.

But during the Ways and Means Committee markup, the language was amended so that electioneering “in the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities” became permitted for all 501(c)(3)s. Which means that those nonprofits would now be able to endorse or oppose candidates for public office without sacrificing their ability to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The new language comes from bills introduced by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., back on Feb. 1. It is a perfect vehicle for the further polarization of American society on partisan lines….

The Christian Coalition is no longer with us, but its former executive director, Ralph Reed, now runs a very similar organization called the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Its stock in trade is also voter guides, and its politics are very much with the Trump wing of the GOP.

Faith and Freedom is a 501(c)(4), which is to say it is ineligible for tax-free donations. Under the House tax bill, it could become eligible for such donations as a 501(c)(3).

Tax-deductible electioneering is what Republican opponents of the Johnson Amendment want to enable. Do you?