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Statement About Wasserman Schultz Amendment to Protect the Johnson Amendment in House Appropriations Bill Markup

Washington, DC—Today, in a 24 to 28 vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) to protect the integrity of the Johnson Amendment failed during a House Appropriations Committee markup session. The amendment would have removed Section 116 of the bill, a rider that prohibits the IRS from enforcing the ban on 501(c)(3) groups from engaging in partisan politics but only exempts churches.

National Program Director for American Atheists, Nick Fish, made the following statement:

We’d like to thank Rep. Wasserman Schultz for her leadership in the fight to protect the Johnson Amendment by offering this amendment, Rep. Barbara Lee for co-sponsoring, and Reps. Nita Lowey, David Price, Betty McCollum, Mike Quigley, and Katherine Clark for speaking out in support of the Johnson Amendment.

The Johnson Amendment is about protecting the neutrality of nonprofit organizations. Charities and churches alike should be above partisan politics and free from pressure to endorse or oppose candidates for office.

But just as important is the promise of equality under the law. And that promise is betrayed by Section 116 of this bill. It gives special treatment to churches and allows them, but not other charitable groups and nonprofits, to wade into politics while keeping their tax-exempt status.

What’s worse is that it allows churches to engage in politics with zero transparency and zero financial oversight. With churches not required to file IRS Form 990 and still able to claim tax-exempt status and a tax deduction for their donors, this bill would turn churches into the new Super PACs with billions of dollars of untraceable and secret money flowing through religious groups and into elections, all while handing their donors a massive tax write-off.

The American people oppose this change. The nonprofit community opposes this change. Even the vast majority of religious groups oppose this change. So why is this being snuck through as a rider attached to a massive appropriations bill?

This is just one battle in the fight to protect the Johnson Amendment and there will be many more. It is a fight to protect the character of our nation’s nonprofit organizations, our houses of worship, and even the foundation of our political system. It’s a fight we must win.

American Atheists has joined with thousands of other nonprofit groups in opposing this change to our nation’s tax code and gutting more than 60 years of good policy.