HOUSES OF WORSHIP &
A Threat to the Integrity of Faith Leaders and Communities
There is a provision in the tax code, sometimes referred to as the "Johnson Amendment," that protects the integrity of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose political candidates. This law, which has been in place for six decades, is a valuable safeguard that does not allow political parties and candidates seeking power to use houses of worship and other 501(c)(3) organizations as their tool.
Under current law, houses of worship can engage in public debate on any issue, host candidate forums, hold voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls and even, with a few boundaries, lobby on specific legislation and invite candidates to speak. They simply can’t endorse or oppose candidates while benefitting from preferred tax-exempt status.
The Trump administration has vowed to “totally destroy” this law. We know that faith leaders support the current law and want to keep their sanctuaries sacred. That is why we need you to sign this letter to tell Congress that you oppose repealing or weakening the law.
Frequently asked questions
Question: Keeping the "Johnson Amendment" means that the rules for houses of worship stay the same, right?
Answer: Correct. Houses of worship and their leaders can continue to fully exercise their free speech rights on political and social issues. Among other things, they can speak to any issue they choose from the pulpit or in public and write about issues in bulletins or their website. They can host candidate forums, engage in voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls, and more. In addition, church leaders are absolutely free to support or endorse political candidates as private citizens—just like any of us can.
Repealing the “Johnson Amendment,” in contrast, would dismantle the nonprofit structure as we know it. Houses of worship and charitable nonprofits, like YWCA, the Arc, and Feeding America, would suddenly be under pressure to endorse or oppose political candidates. This change would be incredibly divisive for these nonpartisan groups.
Question: How does current law protect my house of worship?
Answer: Current law ensures that sanctuaries remain sacred and houses of worship focus on fostering community and performing good works. The tax code protects houses of worship from being exposed to detrimental political pressures, which could fundamentally change them. If churches could officially tell members who to vote for or against, it would give candidates and partisan groups incentive to use congregations as a conduit for political activity and expenditures. Candidates for national, state, and even local elections could pressure houses of worship for official endorsements or campaign activities. Changing the law would also make houses of worship vulnerable to individuals and corporations who could offer large donations or contracts in exchange for taking a position on a candidate. Or members of the congregation could pressure their leader to put his or her official stamp on their preferred candidate.
Keeping the law in place assures all who give to a house of worship that their tax-exempt offerings will be used only to further the religious mission.
Question: Who else supports keeping the law we have now?
Answer: You are in good company. A variety of groups are coming together on this issue. Recently, 99 religious and denominational organizations sent a letter to Congress opposing any repeal or weakening of the "Johnson Amendment." The next day, nearly 4,500 tax-exempt organizations submitted a similar letter to Congress. In addition, recent polls show that the vast majority of Americans and the majority of all major religious groups in the country oppose allowing churches to endorse candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status.