President Trump has made good use of his short time in office, doing much just this week to please any conservatives who doubted him during the campaign. As if the nomination of a superb originalist to the Supreme Court wasn’t enough, the president vowed Thursday to “totally destroy” the law which prohibits tax-exempt churches from engaging in political activity. From the Washington Post:
Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Trump said he would seek to overturn the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt nonprofits — including churches and other houses of worship — from “directly or indirectly” participating in a political candidate’s campaign.
Repeal of the amendment — which is part of the tax code and would require action by Congress — has been sought primarily by conservative Christian leaders who argue that it is used selectively to keep them from speaking out freely.
Naturally, academics worry that such freedom could unleash a torrent of political activity from people they disagree with.
“It’s less about a minister speaking out from the pulpit, and more about deep church coffers,” said Beth Gazley, a professor of public affairs at Indiana University.
David Herzig, a Valparaiso University tax law professor, said repeal of the amendment has the potential to turn houses of worship “into super PACs.”
So what? Maybe they should be. Indeed, why shouldn’t they be? What rightful authority — not claimed authority, but rightful authority — does the government have to tell a congregation of believers that they cannot speak in favor of candidates and causes they support?
Separation of church and state, you say? Nonsense. By what mystical alchemy does tax-exempt status create an establishment of religion? Is this the standard for determining whether someone has rights, whether they pay taxes? Is that where rights come from? Are taxes the price we pay to gain our rights in the first place?
No. Our rights pre-exist government. Rights emerge from our very being, from our nature as individuals. Those rights do not disappear when we engage in communion with others, or with our God.
The Johnson Amendment is fundamentally immoral, just as all campaign finance limitations are immoral. No one has the right to tell another human being whom they can or cannot support politically, or in what manner. This isn’t about religion, or church, or the state. It’s about the fundamental right to say what you think, and to provide means to broadcast that message to anyone willing to lend it ear. Whether President Trump sees the issue that way or not, he should be applauded for the stance he’s taken here.