American Atheists today joined with a coalition of 86 religious, secular, and charitable groups opposing any changes to the Johnson Amendment, the rule prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in partisan electioneering and protecting both religious and charitable organizations from political meddling. The letter comes after President Donald Trump promised to “totally destroy” the rule at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast.
“This rule has been a foundation of church-state separation in the United States for more than 50 years,” said Amanda Knief, American Atheists’ National Legal and Public Policy Director. “By huge margins, Americans oppose allowing churches and religious institutions to engage in partisan politics. The Johnson Amendment ensures Americans know that their charitable giving is going to groups that actually perform charity, rather than influencing elections.”
According to a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, two thirds of Americans oppose allowing churches to endorse political candidates.
“It’s bad enough that churches can be completely opaque in their finances,” said Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists. “Allowing them to be used as a conduit for campaign money would give billionaires wanting to influence our elections a backdoor to creating new super PACs. That is unacceptable.”
The letter reminds President Trump and members of Congress that the Johnson Amendment doesn’t just harm church-state separation, it harms charitable organizations. “Up to now, charities and religious organizations have been insulated from electioneering, and instead have been committed to doing good work […] Politicizing the charitable sector harms our communities and our relationship with the public. We urge you to reject any attempt to remove the campaign intervention ban which protects our charitable and religious sectors from being used for political purposes.”