Efforts to Weaken Johnson Amendment Grow

How do you repeal the effects of a law without actually repealing it?

It’s actually easier than it sounds, and such tactics are often employed to allow Members of Congress to assert more nuanced policy positions in broader legislation. These “policy riders,” often found in appropriations legislation, but not exclusive to spending bills, allow for certain policy statements or restrictions to be placed on funds allocated for a particular program or service. They are commonly used as “sweeteners” to provide incentives for Members of Congress to support a piece of legislation to which they may have other objections.

Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Financial Services approved its Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 spending bill, which includes funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which contained rider language to prohibit the use of IRS funds to enforce the Johnson Amendment against churches and associations of worship without Congressional oversight. While the particular wording of the bill language raises a number of constitutional questions, the spending bill is the latest threat to the 63 year old law that prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or raising funds for political candidates.

Earlier this year, President Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast of totally “destroying” the Johnson Amendment, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has indicated that he plans to include a Johnson Amendment fix in a comprehensive tax reform bill. However, with tax reform discussions moving more slowly than anticipated, pursuing a Johnson Amendment repeal or modification through appropriations bills or another larger legislative package is becoming a more likely strategy for conservatives hoping to see the law weakened.

Independent Sector, along with a coalition of nonprofit groups from both the secular and faith communities, continue to press Congressional leaders to protect and preserve the Johnson Amendment. IS signed a letter to the House Appropriations Committee calling for the controversial spending restriction language to be removed from the Financial Services bill.

The letter, organized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, remains open for signatures, and we strongly encourage you to add your organization’s name. To add your organization’s name, please email aguilar@au.org.

We anticipate that this will not be the only effort to insert language related to the Johnson Amendment in this year’s appropriations process.

Types: Blog, Policy Update
Global Topics: Administration, Congress
Policy Issues: Lobbying & Political Activity, Nonprofit Operations, Political Activity Rules, Tax & Fiscal Policy