Religious Right Groups Press Congress To Move Forward On Johnson Amendment Repeal

Donald Trump at 2015 Values Voter Summit, image from CNN coverage

A group of 48 Religious Right organizations are pressing Republicans in Congress to move forward on a bill repealing the Johnson Amendment, which prevents tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from advocating for or against candidates for office.

Representatives from organizations including Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, American Values, Liberty Counsel, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, Family Policy Alliance, sent a letter to congressional leaders on Tuesday to “prioritize hearings and votes” on the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” a bill introduced last year by Rep. Jody Hice and Majority Whip Steve Scalise  that would roll back the Johnson Amendment.

As Peter wrote when the bill was introduced,

Scalise and Hice say their bill would allow churches and nonprofits to make political statements if those statements are in the ordinary course of their regular work and any expenses related to them are de minimis. In their example, a preacher could endorse a candidate as part of a sermon, and a church could do the same in its normal newsletter. Under their rules, they say, the church couldn’t launch a new political direct mail campaign that is outside the normal scope of its work. But given the massive communications networks that many megachurches and nonprofit religious broadcasters have, this seems like more of a fig leaf than an actual limitation.

Their First Amendment freedoms are quite intact. But they’re looking for more—the ability of churches, religious broadcasters and other nonprofits to engage in direct electoral advocacy with tax-exempt funds. Speakers at Religious Right conferences routinely blame what they see as America’s moral decline on timid preaching, and they blame that on pastors who are intimidated by the IRS or hide behind the supposed threat of the IRS to avoid taking strong political stands. Charisma’s Bob Eschliman even said in praising the new bill that the Third Great Awakening—a national spiritual revival longed for by Religious Right leaders—cannot come about until the nation’s pulpits are “unshackled from the Johnson Amendment.”