Tell Congress: No Partisan Political Activity With Tax Exemptions

Tell Congress: No Partisan Political Activity With Tax Exemptions

Each October, under the guise of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” religious leaders across the United States purposefully break federal law by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.

This year, they’ve got formal backing in Congress. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) have just introduced H.R. 6195, which they are calling the “Free Speech Fairness Act.”

Unfortunately, this bill 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 supporting or opposing political candidates. The logic: organizations exempt from certain tax requirements for religious or moral purposes should not, under this benefit, unfairly influence election outcomes.

Advocates of H.R. 6195 claim that current law bans all political activity by churches and faith leaders. As we have explained, this is far from true.Both houses of worship and faith leaders are legally protected in speaking out and taking positions on all political, economic, and social issues — including war, poverty, human rights, abortion, contraception, and more. Religious leaders preach openly about all of these issues, and religious organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year lobbying to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the U.S. And, in their private capacities, faith leaders can engage in partisan political activities.

The Johnson Amendment simply requires that tax-exempt non-profits, religious or secular, not directly campaign for or against a particular candidate or party. This is a sound idea applied fairly and equally to religious and moral groups granted special tax status. And it is especially important for houses of worship: since they are not required to file tax information with the IRS, H.R. 6195 would effectively allow them to engage in immeasurable campaigning for political parties and candidates.

The real problem with the Amendment is that the IRS has not strongly enforced it. CFI has urged the IRS to act, but few serious investigations have been done. Religious leaders, both on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” and throughout the year, have willfully disregarded the law, and faced no consequences. Now is not the time to open the floodgates.

Message your U.S. representative today and tell them reject H.R. 6195 and urge the IRS to more strongly enforce the existing law against partisan political activity by tax-exempt, non-profit organizations.