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Repealing the Johnson Amendment - Just Another Means to Bully Other Religions

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As a member of a minority religion, one of the many things that bother me about Trump is his call for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. This 1954 law prohibits tax-exempt houses of worship from endorsing politicians. Its repeal has been a major goal of some Christians, as it would allow them to bring politics to the pulpit. “Places of worship for the first time in our history have reason to fear the loss of tax-exempt status merely for espousing and practicing traditional religious beliefs,” the platform states. “Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs.” First, it is important to clarify what this amendment does and doesn’t do. If religious institutions wish to retain their tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3), then they are prohibited from speaking freely with respect to political candidates and elections if such speech constitutes intervention in a political campaign. Religious institutions (or other exempt entities) that are willing to cede their tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) are free to engage in as much political speech and campaign intervention as they would like (subject, of course, to any other applicable election laws). It does not restrict religious organizations from speaking freely from the pulpit on any and all political issues that are important to them, they just cannot intervene in a political campaign or endorse a specific candidate. The consequences of such a shift would be widespread, with potentially large amounts of election money flowing through tax-exempt nonprofits and the possibility of charitable assets being diverted to campaign activities. It could also make obtaining exemption under Section 501(c)(3) an attractive option for individuals seeking to circumnavigate applicable rules. Churches may be particularly susceptible to such abuse due to the fact that they are not required to file an annual informational return with the IRS, as most other organizations exempt under Section 501(c)(3) are, and therefore do not necessarily receive the same level of oversight and review with respect to their activities. Americans United for Separation of Church and State released a press release on Jul 19, 2016 in which they to this call for repeal as “short-sighted, reckless and corrosive to religious life.” It went on to state “Republican platform seeks to turn America’s houses of worship into miniature political action committees.” [Note 1] The National Council of Nonprofits in July reaffirmed its position that “501(c)(3) nonprofits enjoy more power and independence to solve community problems by steering clear of partisanship,” and noted, “If individual organizations came to be regarded as Democratic charities or Republican charities instead of the nonpartisan problem solvers that they are, it would diminish the public’s overall trust in the sector and thus limit the effectiveness of the nonprofit community.” [Note 2] As a Contemporary Pagan, I feel that majority religions are often using political force to compensate for the powerlessness to persuade others, rationally, to accept their deeply held moral beliefs. Creating a law enforcing their belief is, after all, a standing threat of physical force. It is little better than threatening your neighbors with violence because you don’t like how they live. It may follow an orderly pattern of due process and appear to inherit the legitimacy lent by state sanctioned authority, but it is base aggression nonetheless – hardly in keeping with the Golden Rule, or with the teaching to live in peace with those around us. Live by your moral values, for they are indeed sacred to those who hold them. Live them well, and Scripture teaches that your exemplary life will be an effective living witness (1 Peter 2:12). But please, let’s maintain perspective and not let worry over select perceived sins or other people’s sexuality grow so disproportionate that our obsession with “curing” or “correcting” them pushes aside all the values that made America great: freedom of choice and religion, opportunity for prosperity, physical safety, self-determination, education, and science. [Note 1] http://au.org/media/press-releases/gop-call-to-repeal-ban-on-church-politicking-is-reckless-and-corrosive-to [Note 2] https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/civicrm/mailing/view?reset=1&id;=232