Before Trump’s Prayer Breakfast, 145 Groups Call on Legislators to Keep Churches Nonpartisan

Feb. 7, 2018

Before Trump’s Prayer Breakfast, 145 Groups Call on Legislators to Keep Churches Nonpartisan

Johnson Amendment Must Be Protected, Say Groups

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in advance of Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, 145 organizations including Public Citizen called on U.S. House and U.S. Senate appropriators to preserve the integrity of our nation’s charitable nonprofits, houses of worship and foundations by rejecting any attempt to undermine the Johnson Amendment.

The Johnson Amendment is the 63-year-old law that forbids 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for office. Though the law is widely popular among faith leaders and voters, President Donald Trump used last year’s Prayer Breakfast to denounce it, calling for it to be “totally destroy[ed]”. A version of the 2018 funding package that passed through committee in the House contains a poison-pill provision that would restrict enforcement of the law with respect to churches.

“Americans do not want our charitable nonprofits, houses of worship and foundations to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics,” says the letter to the appropriations committees. “We must keep this valuable safeguard that protects our houses of worship, our charitable organizations and our political process.”

Since the last National Prayer Breakfast, more than 5,600 nonprofits, more than 100 religious and denominational organizations and more than 4,300 individual religious leaders have told Congress in no uncertain terms to oppose any changes to the law.

“A change to this law would mean a dramatic change to elections in this country, and not for the better,” said Emily Peterson-Cassin, coordinator of the Bright Lines Project at Public Citizen. “Groups would immediately hijack our nation’s charitable system to divert campaign spending into undisclosed and tax-deductible channels.”

In recent years appropriations packages have become a top target for poison-pill riders, inappropriate partisan provisions that have nothing to do with funding the government and could never pass Congress on their own. The Johnson Amendment provision is one of hundreds of potential ideological riders affecting democracy, health and the environment that could end up as part of the 2018 funding package.

“Repealing the Johnson Amendment would undermine the independence of communities of faith,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “Houses of worship are sources of unity and communal strength. The Johnson Amendment has shielded them from the coercion of partisan politics. Our call is to elevate the moral discourse in this country, as we seek to meet the challenges facing the world today.”

###