99 Churches Singled Out by IRS Regarding Johnson Amendment in 2015
President Trump last week promised to abolish the Johnson Amendment, a law restricting pastors and churches from endorsing political candidates. Speaking last week, Trump said, "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely without fear and retribution. I will do that. Remember."
The remarks follow a news conference held just the day before on Capitol Hill introducing the Free Speech Fairness Act, a bill sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.). The bill would address the shortcomings of the Johnson Amendment which in 1954 was inserted into the tax code by Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), without floor or Committee debate. The Johnson amendment prohibits churches and non-profits from engaging in any activity that might be interpreted as participating in, or intervening in a campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office, including a simple oral or written statement. The legislation reflects the Republican Party platform language which criticizes the Johnson Amendment for restricting the "First Amendment freedoms of all non-profit organizations by prohibiting political speech."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement:
"President Trump's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast were outstanding -- right on target. The president was very clear that religious freedom needs to flourish because our country's ability to flourish is contingent upon it. I know his speech is a great encouragement for people of faith, both at home and abroad, and especially for those who have faced persecution because of their religious beliefs.
"I commend President Trump for calling for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, echoing the call that he raised repeatedly on the campaign trail.
"In 2015 alone, we know of 99 different churches singled out by the IRS for violation of the Johnson Amendment. It's time for this IRS intimidation of churches and clergy to come to an end.
"Dr. Martin Luther King -- the greatest 'political pastor' in the nation -- spoke forcefully from the pulpit about how the issues of the day were to be driven by pastors and the people in pews. For the whole of American history, churches have been at the forefront of shaping debate and public policy. That's where they ought to stay. Pastors should be held to accountable to God alone for what they say behind the pulpit, not the IRS.
"I urge Congress to pass the Free Speech Fairness Act and once again allow churches and non-profit organizations the freedom to speak without fear of government punishment," concluded Perkins.