Ralph Reed: Congressional Leaders Aim To Slip Johnson Amendment Repeal Into ‘Must-Pass’ Bill This Year

Ralph Reed speaks at the 2018 Road to Majority conference in Washington on June 8, 2018. (Photo: Jared Holt for Right Wing Watch)

During this weekend’s annual Road to Majority Conference, Faith and Freedom Coalition chairman and Religious Right activist Ralph Reed told attendees that Republican leaders in the Senate have been working with him to place a repeal of the Johnson Amendment in a “must-pass bill” before the end of this Congressional session.

A provision in the U.S. tax code since 1954, the Johnson Amendment prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, including churches and other religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The Johnson Amendment operates as an important bulwark of the separation of church and state. Religious Right leaders often claim, falsely, that it prevents pastors from speaking out on social and political issues. Its repeal would allow houses of worship to fundraise for political candidates, potentially giving big donors a charitable tax deduction for the money they spend on elections.

Lawmakers inserted a repeal of the Johnson Amendment into the House-passed 2018 Omnibus tax bill, but the repeal was ruled out of order by the Senate parliamentarian, to the chagrin of Reed and other Religious Right activists. Since then, the Faith and Freedom Coalition has been lobbying key majority leaders Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell–who were both presenters at the conference–to attempt another repeal of the Johnson Amendment.

During the congressional portion of his annual Washington conference, Reed said, “I would put it at a maybe 60 percent [likelihood],” in reference to the repeal of the Johnson amendment. “I want you to know without giving away any confidences that we are in ongoing communication with House and Senate leadership, including some of the speakers you are hearing from this weekend, about getting the Johnson amendment included in a must-pass bill before the end of this session of Congress.”

In May this year, President Trump signed an executive order urging the Treasury Department to relax enforcement of the amendment, and has additionally encouraged Congress to, “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.”

In praise of the May Executive Order, Reed said, “As long as Donald Trump is president of the United States, by Executive Order, the IRS cannot harass or prosecute a single church in America for violating the Johnson Amendment.” Reed said that the effort to fully repeal the amendment must be the top priority since “there is no guarantee that [Trump’s executive order] lasts forever.”

In his speech, Reed highlighted other major political priorities of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, namely the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. He added that “we need to pray for another [Supreme Court] appointment,” a remark that received a roar of applause from the 200-plus audience.