How the Johnson Amendment Threatens Churches’ Freedoms | American Center for Law and Justice

Sen. Johnson’s motivations, however, are much clearer. Around the time this amendment was introduced, Sen. Johnson had faced some political difficulties from certain organizations in his home state. “Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas forced the amendment out of his anger that [two local] Texas non-profit groups had supported his primary opponent.” Gary Cass, Gag Order, 58 (2005) (citing Bruce R. Hopkins, The Law of Tax-Exempt Organizations, 327 (6th ed. 1992)).

There you have it. “The IRS rule that strips tax exemption from churches engaged in electioneering was born of Lyndon Johnson’s Texas politics, not the U.S. Constitution . . . .” Larry Witham, Texas politics blamed for ’54 IRS rule LBJ wanted to keep Senate seat, WASH. TIMES, Aug. 27, 1998 (discussing a study done by James Davidson, a Purdue University sociologist). More specifically, “‘the ban on church electioneering has nothing to do with the First Amendment or Jeffersonian principles of separation of church and state . . . .’ ‘It was prompted by Johnson’s desire to challenge McCarthyism, protect the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in Texas, and win re-election.’” Id.

Our nation once had a longstanding tradition of church involvement in the political activity of the day. It was previously commonplace for pastors to preach about political issues and candidates.

[F]or the first century and a half of our nation’s history, ‘election sermons’ were commonplace in which pastors appealed to their congregations to support or oppose particular candidates based on their positions on issues.  Religious leaders did not merely speak about moral principles alone – they encouraged church members to take specific action in the voting booth to support those principles.

History now includes the last 62 years, which, of course, tell a very different story. The IRS first began closely regulating the political activity of 501(c)(3) organizations in 2004. The IRS website lists prohibited activity: in part, “[c]ontributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.” Even activity that only has the “evidence of bias,” having simply “the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates,” is prohibited.