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Monday, October 31, 2022

Not Enforcing the Johnson Amendment

John R. Vile at The First Amendment Encyclopedia:
.The Johnson Amendment is an addition, adopted in 1954, to the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(3). As a condition for maintaining exception from income taxes and other taxes, charitable organizations including churches and affiliated groups, were forbidden from participating or intervening in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office” (Davidson 1998, 17).

The amendment is named after then Senator (later President) Lyndon B. Johnson, who introduced the amendment out of concern about the Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government. Both were tax-exempt organizations that had imitated the tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R., WI) in campaigning against politicians like Johnson who were more liberal in their political orientations
Jeremy Schwartz and Jessica Priest at The Texas Tribune:
At one point, churches fretted over losing their tax-exempt status for even unintentional missteps. But the IRS has largely abdicated its enforcement responsibilities as churches have become more brazen. In fact, the number of apparent violations found by ProPublica and the Tribune, and confirmed by three nonprofit tax law experts, is greater than the total number of churches the federal agency has investigated for intervening in political campaigns over the past decade, according to records obtained by the news organizations.

In response to questions, an IRS spokesperson said that the agency “cannot comment on, neither confirm nor deny, investigations in progress, completed in the past nor contemplated.” Asked about enforcement efforts over the past decade, the IRS pointed the news organizations to annual reports that do not contain such information.


Among the violations the newsrooms identified: In January, an Alaska pastor told his congregation that he was voting for a GOP candidate who is aiming to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, saying the challenger was the “only candidate for Senate that can flat-out preach.” During a May 15 sermon, a pastor in Rocklin, California, asked voters to get behind “a Christian conservative candidate” challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom. And in July, a New Mexico pastor called Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham “beyond evil” and “demonic” for supporting abortion access. He urged congregants to “vote her behind right out of office” and challenged the media to call him out for violating the Johnson Amendment.

Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at the University of Indiana-Purdue, who studies Christian nationalism, said the ramping up of political activity by churches could further polarize the country. “It creates hurdles for a healthy, functioning, pluralistic democratic society,” he said. “It’s really hard to overcome.”