The Johnson Amendment - 1954
first Churches and now Tea Parties under attack
Eric LaMont Gregory
Twenty years passed between the 1934 law preventing §501(c)(3) status organizations from using a substantial portion of their resources to lobby for legislation, and the sweeping changes that came about in 1954.
In 1954, the Internal Revenue Code §501(c)(3) was amended, without debate, to restrict the speech of non-profit tax exempt entities, including churches. Before the 1954 amendment, there were no restrictions on what churches could or could not do with regard to speech about political campaigns, government, voting or other topical social issues.
Senator Lyndon B Johnson proposed the 1954 amendment, stating that non-profit tax exempt organizations could not 'participate in, or intervene in, including the publishing or distributing of literature, any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.'
The IRS has since the 1954 amendment maintained that any speech by churches about candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption.
America history tells a different story, churches had spoken for and against candidates for government office since the founding of America. An act that proved fatal to attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act may be the strongest defense of the right to bear arms after the Second Amendment.
Ferverent sermons were delivered from the pulpit opposing Thomas Jefferson for being a deist; and against the Unitarian William Howard Taft.
The Church has been at the forefront of significant changes in American culture, including ending child labor and segregation as well as advancing civil rights. There are areas of American life that have a moral focus and one wonders how these will be addressed in the framework silenced religious leaders.
Since the 1954 amendment however, churches face a choice of whether to continue to address moral issues that impinge upon political choices and put their tax exempt status at risk, or remain silent and protect their tax exempt status.
Although, there is no reports to date where a church has lost its tax exempt status or been directly punished for
sermons delivered from the pulpit.
Notwithstanding the fact of IRS non-enforcement of the 1954 Amendment, many churches have allowed the 1954 Johnson amendment to effectively silence their speech, especially from the pulpit.