On July 13th, The House Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill was voted out of committee 31-32 and heads to the full US House of Representatives for consideration. The bill includes a section that would basically eliminate the Johnson amendment enforcement of the tax code against churches opening them up to used as political tools and bribery facilitators.
The Johnson Amendment, which has been part of the tax code for six decades, protects the right of houses of worship and other tax-exempt organizations to speak out about political and social issues while, at the same time, ensuring they are not pressured by political candidates and campaigns to take a side in divisive partisan elections. It is widely supported by religious and denomination organizations, faith leaders, and other non-profits, as well as the vast majority of Americans.
Section 116 of the FSGG appropriations bill, however, would make it incredibly difficult for the IRS to investigate churches that have violated the Johnson Amendment. It would require consent from the IRS Commissioner for each investigation, notification to two committees in Congress and a 90-day waiting period before such investigations could commence. These hurdles would slow down, if not entirely halt, any investigations and further politicize them. In addition, because this special treatment applies to houses of worship and not to secular organizations, the provision likely violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Of course, in reality, you can count on one hand the number of churches actually investigated over the years and count with one finger any churches that have lost tax exemption for violating the Johnson amendment in the past 20 years. Investigating churches is a mine field for elected officials.
However, it’s important to leave the amendment in place so that churches don’t become political tools and bribery facilitators.
And if this section makes it into law, you can bet there will be some intense caterwauling if a Mosque forms a PAC.
That would almost be worth the price of admission.
Here is the text of SEC. 116 as of 07/20/2017:
SEC. 116. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination that a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, or a convention or association of churches is not exempt from taxation for participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office unless.
(1) the Commissioner of Internal Revenue con- sents to such determination;
(2) not later than 30 days after such deter- mination, the Commissioner notifies the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Finance of the Senate of such determination; and
(3) such determination is effective with respect to the church, integrated auxiliary of a church, or convention or association of churches not earlier than 90 days after the date of the notification under paragraph (2).