Religious Freedom

These 3 “Political” Issues Directly Affect Churches, But the IRS Demands They Stay Silent

Earlier this week, Republican Congressional Leadership released their outline for tax reform, declaring our tax code in desperate need of an overhaul.

While tax reform is important for our nation’s economy and businesses, there is a critical tax issue that cannot be overlooked: fixing the Johnson Amendment. 

The Johnson Amendment, named for its sponsor then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, regulates the speech of nonprofits by making exclusion from political campaigns a condition for tax-exempt status. The amendment was born out of Johnson’s own animosity towards two nonprofits who were campaigning against him, but its long-lasting legacy has been a chilling effect on the free speech of churches.

As today’s culture continues to turn basic biblical principles into controversial political issues, many political debates and government policies end up directly affecting churches and their ability to adhere to their biblical beliefs.

  • Just last year, Massachusetts decided churches were “places of public accommodations,” subjecting them to statutes that infringed on their autonomy and regulated internal decisions.
  • Or look at California: the state legislature recently passed a bill that ensures that organizations cannot ask their employees to sign a code of conduct that deals with “reproductive health decisions,” including abortion and sexual activity. This bill would prohibit churches from ensuring that their employees are adhering to their church’s guiding principles.
  • And who could forget the Houston Five, whose sermons and personal communications were subpoenaed by the City of Houston after they supported repeal efforts of a local city ordinance concerning transgender individuals’ access to bathrooms.

Churches have the right to defend their beliefs, but instead are faced with an unconstitutional decision: speak out in defense of biblical principles and risk jeopardizing their tax exemption, or remain silent.

This is why we are asking pastors across the country to support the Free Speech Fairness Act. The Free Speech Fairness Act would create a relief valve, allowing pastors to preach about political issues that occur in “the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities.”

This change to the Johnson Amendment would give churches the freedom to choose to speak out during campaigns in support of or in opposition to particular policies and candidates that directly involve their biblical principles.

Every church is different. Some see their biblical beliefs as intricately linked with political issues and decide to speak out. Others choose to avoid politics altogether. But that’s the point: the church should have the ultimate authority over the message its congregation receives. Not the IRS.

Even left-leaning leaders spoke out against the actions of the City of Houston, pointing to the “dangerous, chilling effect” these subpoenas have on pastors everywhere. While disagreeing on the policy involved, this overregulation was feared by both sides of the political spectrum as the hand of the government reached into churches.

That’s why it’s time for Congress to fix the Johnson Amendment and return to churches the freedom to follow God’s prompting on what they preach without fear of government punishment.

Join the nationwide movement of pastors by signing your name to this letter to Congress, bringing awareness to our leaders in Congress that this is an issue that they must make right through the Free Speech Fairness Act. 


Sign the Letter

Natalie Wyman

Legal Assistant I

Natalie worked as a lobbyist at the Family Foundation of Virginia and a grassroots associate at Heritage Action for America before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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