The Church and Politics

According to the NY Times, Donald Trump has said he wants to fulfill a campaign promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment and intends to sign a bill repealing it. Now if you don’t know what the Johnson Amendment is, don’t feel bad, neither did I. The amendment that was passed by a Republican Congress in 1954 and signed by President Eisenhower prohibits any tax-exempt entity from either directly or indirectly participating in any political campaigning. If a tax-exempt organization engages in political activity, they risk losing their tax-exempt status. Some examples of tax-exempt organizations are churches or charitable organizations.

Why is Trump so hell bent on repealing the Johnson Amendment? According to NPR the repeal is about more than just “free speech” for churches and pastors, it is also about money. If the law is overturned the churches could give tax-free donations to a political candidate or campaign. This would allow religious organizations to become a source of money in politics. Which side would this favor? The Republicans OF COURSE (channeling Cenk Uygar). Large churches like the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic Church could give money hand over fist to help elect a political candidate or push their own agenda.

Yet once again public opinion is not on Trump’s side. A poll by Public Religion Research (PRRI) showed that 71% of Americans opposed allowing churches and places of worship to endorse political candidates while keeping their tax-exempt status. Even more damaging the same PRRI poll showed that 56% of white evangelical Protestants and 63% of Republicans oppose this.

Is the Johnson Amendment enforced? The answer is no. The most common example of the lack of enforcement of the law is Measure 8 (the anti-gay marriage amendment) in California which passed in 2008 by about 400,000 votes. According to the Huffington Post, the Mormons fessed up in a filing to the California Secretary of State to spending $189,903.58 to help pass Measure 8. Yet no action was taken by the IRS. The threat of action up until now has for the most part stopped churches from participating in political activities.

If passed, the repeal could open the door to allow churches to help fund Republican candidates and causes. What causes would churches help fund? The causes would be anti-woman, anti-choice, pro-gun, pro-charter schools, anti-science (there goes global warming) etc., etc. What is the worst part? Churches could help fund measures to bring religion into school.

What about the Constitution? Amendment one to the Constitution of the United States says:

Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Congress cannot pass a law that respects or prohibits a religion. In other words, the government must stay neutral in term of religion. Other than the prohibition of churches participating in political activities, Congress is not supposed to be involved.

Instead of repealing the Johnson Amendment, what should happen is that churches and charitable organizations (which could be an off-shoot of a church in the case of the Catholic Charities) should be taxed on ALL revenue (including donations) and property at a flat 10%. Also eliminate the tax write-off for charities that people take on their taxes every year. The combination of the two causes the loss of billions of dollars in taxes per year. Stop allowing religion to dictate how people are helped in our society as they use it as a recruitment tool to get the poor and homeless in the doors of their churches. We should not allow churches to get away with amassing large sums of money and property (the Catholic Church and the LDS are perfect examples) and using it to control people.

In short, we should be going the other direction on the role of churches in society. It is time for churches and charities to pay the piper and contribute to society rather than allow the burden to be placed on the people.

tagged as: church, constitution, government, money,