Washington, DC– Today the Secular Coalition for America along with fourteen of its member organizations sent a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations urging them to remove a provision from the 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill that would allow tax-exempt churches to engage in partisan politics. The provision, found in Section 116 of the bill, instructs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to selectively cease enforcement of the 1954 Johnson Amendment as it applies houses of worship.
The joint letter details several reasons why the Johnson Amendment is a crucial safeguard for preserving the integrity of nonprofits and the secular character of our government.
For over 60 years, the Johnson Amendment has helped keep nonprofits above the political fray by ensuring that the charitable contributions they receive are used to support their work, not political campaigns.
Unlike all other nonprofits, religious nonprofits are uniquely exempt from filing the Form 990, which discloses sources of income and expenditures. This form is crucial for holding nonprofits accountable to both their donors and the government. If the IRS ceases to enforce the Johnson Amendment, houses of worship exempt from financial disclosure could operate like Super PACS, funneling untraceable sums of “dark money” into the political system.
Section 116 solely exempts religious nonprofits from the Johnson Amendment. This special privilege for religious organizations “strikes to the heart of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
The nonprofit community overwhelmingly supports the Johnson Amendment. A recent letter urging Congress to leave the law intact received over 4,500 signatures from groups as wide-ranging as Girl Scouts of the USA, to Habit for Humanity, to the League of Women Voters.
Religious leaders also overwhelmingly support the Johnson Amendment. Nearly 3,000 faith leaders from a variety of religious groups signed a letter urging Congress to protect the Johnson Amendment. Signatories included the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Catholic Charities USA, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Shia Islamic Education Center, and the Hindu American Foundation.
Polls have consistently shown strong public support for the Johnson Amendment. A poll published in February 2017 found 90% of evangelical Christian leaders say it is “inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate from the pulpit.” A poll published in March 2017 found that 72% of voters affirm that nonprofits should not spend tax-exempt donations on supporting political candidates.
The House Committee on Appropriations will mark up the bill this Thursday (July 13). The full letter and its list of signatories can be found here.
CONTACT: Casey Brescia, Communications Associate, [email protected], (845) 380-6201
The Secular Coalition for America is the nation’s premier advocacy organization representing atheists, humanists, agnostics, and other nontheists. Its mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. The Secular Coalition represents 18 voting member organizations.