Tell Congress: Oppose Electioneering by Churches and Other Tax-Exempt Organizations

February 13, 2017

Members of Congress want to grant tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, the ability to engage in partisan political activity — and we need your help to stop them.

The misnamed "Free Speech Fairness Act" (H.R. 781 and S. 264) would give religious leaders expanded influence in the political process. This is anything but fair.

Current federal law, known as the Johnson Amendment, bars tax-exempt, non-profit organizations — including houses of worship and educational and advocacy groups such as the Center for Inquiry (CFI) — from endorsing or opposing political candidates for elected office. The logic: organizations that don’t pay taxes shouldn’t be able to use tax-free money to influence elections.

Advocates of these bills claim that current law bans all political activity by churches and faith leaders. This is far from true. Tax exempt groups and their leaders may speak out and takes positions on a range of political, economic, and social issues — including war, poverty, human rights, abortion, contraception, and more. Indeed, religious leaders preach openly about all of these issues. And, in their private capacities, faith leaders can engage in partisan political activities.

The Johnson Amendment simply requires that tax-exempt organizations, religious or secular, not directly campaign for or against a particular candidate or party. This sound idea. And it is especially important for houses of worship: since they, unlike other nonprofit organizations, are not required to file tax information with the IRS that would otherwise keep them publicly accountable. These bills would effectively allow religious groups to act as Super PACs, using contributors’ money to promote or oppose candidates for office.

In fact, the only problem with the Johnson Amendment is that it has not been enforced. CFI has urged the IRS to act, but few serious investigations have been done. Religious leaders have willfully disregarded the law, and faced no consequences. Now is not the time to open the floodgates.

Call and write your members of Congress today and tell them reject H.R. 781 and S. 264, and urge the IRS to more strongly enforce the existing law against partisan political activity by tax-exempt, non-profit organizations. 

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#1 Andrew Sarnat, M.D. (Guest) on Monday February 27, 2017 at 8:18pm

Reject HR 781 and S 264, enforce existing law against tax-exempt, non-profit organizations.

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