The Johnson Amendment of 1954

Know how to bring some excitement about the Tax Code into the church?  Talk about the Johnson Amendment.

After the election season of 1954, Lyndon Johnson (a Democrat) was upset that two businessmen (Frank Gannett and H.L. Hunt) had opposed him during his reelection bid through their charitable non for profit organizations. They had opposed him because they felt he was too soft on communism. This is, of course, during the height of McCarthyism. Nonetheless, Johnson’s ego and pride had been bruised by these two guys.  

When a bill in the Senate was introduced to overhaul the tax code, Johnson added a few words to the tax code that would restrict affected organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. What later became known as the Johnson Amendment passed with no discussion and only a voice vote. It was actually a bi-partisan amendment, pushed by the GOP and signed off by President Eisenhower.   When President Reagan revisited the Tax Code in 1986, it was decided to leave that amendment in there.

Out of twenty-nine 501c not-for-profit categories, Johnson only added language to muzzle the c3 category, which all churches are part of. Ironically, Johnson was not after the church, he was after those charitable organizations that had opposed him. The church, as a result, became an unintended victim.

This amendment made it “illegal” for pastors too include language in their sermons that might be construed to either support or endorse political candidates for office. However, while many agree about specific lines that cannot be crossed, what was not fully defined is how to decide what “oppose” or “support” fully means from an IRS code perspective; therefore, the analysis is somewhat subjective based on the IRS agents involved.

At conflict is the fact that the First Amendment of the US Constitution restricts the IRS from being the “pulpit police”. The truth of the matter is that the IRS is not allowed to dictate what a pastor can say from the pulpit.  However (there it is again) – when a church applies for a 501C(3) status,  there is a degree of honor to be expected from the church, that they will adhere to the agreements set forth in the 501C(3) section of the IRS code.  A church DOES NOT have to apply for c3 status.

Since 2008, 3000 pastors, along with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have publicly endorsed or supported political candidates from the pulpit. They recorded these sermons and mailed them directly to the IRS.  As of late 2018, the IRS has not taken any action against any of them – not one. Many agree that this is primarily due to man power issues at the IRS. However, in 1995, the IRS did go after a church in upstate New York that ran active campaigns against Bill Clinton. That church did lose its tax exempt status.

The bottom line is that the First Amendment protects what pastors can, and cannot say, from the pulpit. But, many pastors have bought into the Johnson Amendment anyway, primarily because of the tax exempt status. I wonder how many churches would be willing, or capable, to toss away their tax exempt status to take back some of their religious liberty?  How many churches would survive, or die, as a result? 

I heard a pastor tell me over the last few weeks that he believes in the Separation of Church and State, which does not exist. Separation of Church and State (a misappropriated statement from Thomas Jefferson) is sometimes confused with the establishment clause. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. From a pastors perspective, there you go – that’s all there is.

Fortunately, even with 501C3 status, Pastors are NOT restricted from discussing government or cultural affairs. We have bought into the myth that pastors must remain silent. Because the church has remained – almost – silent over the last 60 years or so, we have a new generation of church goers that have been raised up into a myth that has become their reality. The result is that because we have a silent pulpit, we now have a silent pew. A silent pew has resulted in an uninformed electorate. An uninformed electorate will never know what God might have to say about how civil government should be run.

It generally boils down to the basic principal of government versus liberty, and liberty should always win.

This begs a good question: If the church could reconstruct government today – what would it look like? As I believe that church denominational lines have been drawn along political lines, I am not sure that the church today, in the US, could reconstruct government. That is my opinion anyway.

We love all of you. God bless.

 

References:

 

https://davidfiorazo.com/2015/05/the-johnson-amendment-and-the-agenda-to-silence-christians/

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otOYnmGHT_s