The following is a statement by Daniel J. Cardinali, president and CEO, Independent Sector:
“President Donald Trump’s executive order, Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, puts us on a fundamentally wrong path by effectively easing Johnson Amendment prohibitions against political activity for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
For 60 years, this law has played an essential role in maintaining public confidence in, and support for, the charitable community. It ensures that charities remain a nonpartisan haven, separate from politics, in our civil society. While the executive order frames this issue as one of religious liberty, the Johnson Amendment applies broadly to all 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches. Currently, Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code permits charities to interact with public officials on a limited basis while strictly prohibiting them from engaging in political activity. This is an appropriate distinction, as countless charities work every day to educate public officials on issues relevant to their mission and important to their clients, members, or communities.
Yet this distinction is not always clear under current law, and this lack of clarity has consistently discouraged many charitable organizations from engaging in critically important advocacy work. Rather than taking steps to clarify these rules, this executive order only adds to the complexity and confusion around what charitable organizations, including religious institutions, are allowed to do under the law.
Speaking out and engaging in advocacy on mission-driven issues is an entirely different matter than endorsing candidates or getting involved in political campaigns. 501(c)(3) organizations, as the public trust demands, should remain above the political fray, advocating and informing leaders, but not engaging in political activity.”
Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse set of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations to advance the common good. Learn more at independentsector.org.