August 4, 2016

HMM: Trump Wants To Repeal The Johnson Amendment And Make Churches The New Super PACs.

Why have some religious conservatives decided to support Donald Trump for United States president? Leaders have named their reasons: He’s promised toappoint pro-life Supreme Court justices; he’s allegedly good at business. But they have also consistently cited something else, perhaps more unexpected: the tax code.

Trump has promised to repeal the so-called Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from participating in political activities. Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and later revised by Congress, it keeps churches and other non-profits from lobbying for specific causes, campaigning on behalf of politicians, and supporting or opposing candidates for office.

While opponents of the Johnson Amendment often frame their objections in terms of free speech, the provision’s primary impact may be financial. Right now, the IRS makes a clear distinction between non-profit groups—from charities and universities to certain private schools and houses of worship—and political organizations.

If the Johnson Amendment were repealed, pastors would be able to endorse candidates from the pulpit, which they’re currently not allowed to do by law. But it’s also true that a lot more money could possibly flow into politics via donations to churches and other religious organizations. That could mean religious groups would become much more powerful political forces in American politics—and it would almost certainly tee up future court battles.

Basically, it would give churches the kind of power that unions enjoy.

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