Churchnet, also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, declares its opposition to repealing the IRS’s political activity ban (also known as the “Johnson Amendment”). The rule, which prevents houses of worship and many other tax-exempt nonprofits from endorsing political candidates, has made headlines this week in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley. Churchnet joined a large coalition of faith groups last year to voice support of the political activity ban amid unsuccessful legislative efforts to repeal it.
“The ‘Johnson Amendment’ protects house of worship from candidates seeking endorsement during a political campaign,” said Brian Ford, executive director of Churchnet. “As a life-long Baptist and ordained pastor, I can’t imagine how damaging it would be to erase this legislation for local churches across the nation. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to be in community with one another, even those we disagree with on a myriad of political and social issues. We need to continue to live into this tension, not ramp it up.”
Added to the tax code in 1954, the political activity ban prevents tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations — which includes most churches — from engaging in partisan politics without losing their tax-exempt status. Critics of the rule often refer to it as the “Johnson Amendment” to connect it to then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, who first added it to the proposed tax code bill before a Republican House and a Republican Senate overwhelmingly passed it without controversy. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower then signed it into law. The political activity ban was reaffirmed in the 1986 tax code passed by a Democratic House and a Republican Senate and signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan.
The faith community and the nonprofit community widely support the political activity ban. Last year, Churchnet joined more than 100 other faith groups in sending a letter to Congress opposing a repeal of the political activity ban. Later, more than 4,500 faith leaders — including many in our network — signed a similar letter sent to Congress. Polling consistently shows strong support for preserving the political activity ban. And pastors and church members remain strongly opposed to churches endorsing politicians.
On October 16, Churchnet’s fall gathering in Liberty, Mo., will include a plenary address by Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The BJC led the faith-based coalition that last year advocated for keeping the political activity ban.