Congress Fails to Repeal Johnson Amendment in Tax Bill

Written by Michael Gryboski

A measure within the federal tax overhaul bill that would end the IRS regulation barring churches from endorsing political candidates has been removed from the proposed legislation.

The U.S. Senate’s parliamentarian struck out the language overturning the Johnson Amendment, with the Hill reporting last week that the reason was because it “did not meet Senate rules that require elements of the tax bill to have something to do with the budget.”

“The Senate is seeking to move a House-Senate conference report under special budgetary rules that prevent Democrats from using a filibuster,” explained The Hill.

“To use those rules, all parts of the bill must have a budgetary effect, and the parliamentarian ruled the Johnson language did not meet that standard.”

Introduced by then U.S. Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1954, the Johnson Amendment amended the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit houses of worship and other nonprofits from endorsing political candidates.

During the 2016 election season, then presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigned on the promise to repeal the Johnson Amendment.

“I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions — is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” stated Trump at a June 2016 gathering of about 900 evangelical leaders and pastors.

After becoming president, Trump signed an executive order in May on the National Day of Prayer that called for an end to the Johnson Amendment. But the president himself cannot get rid of the Johnson Amendment. Only Congress can do that. In November, the U.S. House of Representatives added a provision repealing the Johnson Amendment to their version of the tax bill.

“Specifically, the House bill would have temporarily allowed nonprofits to engage in political speech in the ordinary course of its activities, so long as the organization didn’t incur significant expenses while doing so,” reported The Hill.

Liberal groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State celebrated the language being removed from the tax bill, telling supporters that it was a “huge win.”

“This is a huge win, and we should take a moment to celebrate. But then we have to get back to fighting to protect the Johnson Amendment,” stated Americans United last Friday.

“After Congress passes (or maybe does not pass) the tax bill, it will move on to spending bills. And the House has been pushing to weaken the ability of the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the Johnson Amendment through its spending bills. We will continue to watch for that and will let you know when you need to speak out again.”

Conservative groups like the Family Research Council denounced the removal of the language, but maintained that “the days of the Johnson Amendment are numbered.”

“Thanks to President Trump, this will be an election issue from this day forward,” stated FRC last Friday. “As for FRC, we’ll continue the work we began with Pulpit Freedom initiatives until we’ve legislatively corrected this problem or found a remedy in court.”

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