Washington, DC—In a statement late Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced that the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (HR 1) will not include a provision that would have permitted churches to engage in electoral politics, after it was blocked by the Senate parliamentarian. The version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives included language that would have severely undercut the effectiveness of the Johnson Amendment.
“The is a big, if only temporary, win for those of us who care about the separation of religion from government, transparency in our political system, and common sense,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. “Rushing the provision through could have had catastrophic effects on our nation’s elections by causing a flood of secret money to be funneled through churches. This was the very definition of a bad idea.”
Since 1954, all 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, have been specifically prohibited from endorsing candidates for public office or from spending money in support of, or in opposition to, candidates. However, these organizations are permitted to speak out on matters of public importance, lobby elected officials, publish candidate questionnaires, encourage people to vote, and host candidate forums. Leaders of these organizations are also free to support or endorse candidates in their personal capacity.
“The other side has been playing fast and loose with the facts,” said Nick Fish, national program director for American Atheists. “They claim their desire to repeal the Johnson Amendment is about free speech or religious freedom. But it isn’t. It’s about giving even more power to a select few. The Johnson Amendment is a common-sense protection to ensure that the American people aren’t subsidizing anonymous political donations with tax deductions.”
Polling has indicated that more than 70% of Americans support the Johnson Amendment, including a majority of Republicans and evangelicals.
“While this attempt failed, there will be more. We will remain vigilant and fight any attempt to undermine the foundation of church/state separation in America,” added Silverman.
American Atheists is part of a coalition of more than 5,500 non-profit organizations who opposed changes to the Johnson Amendment.