The Johnson Amendment

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The Johnson Amendment

Postby Joseph Patrick » Thu Feb 02, 2017 4:56 pm

From Joseph Patrick...aka Gerry Milligan
I heard on NPR that today (Thursday the 2nd) at a prayer breakfast our president has vowed to end the Johnson amendment which prevents charities (spelled churches) from endorsing political candidates or lose their tax exempt status. Does anyone have an update?
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Jim » Thu Feb 02, 2017 7:01 pm

I was watching and that's about what he said. It will be hard to do since the sensitivity-enhanced democrats will do everything to block it since, naturally, it's a creature of those racist republicans.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby KeithE » Thu Feb 02, 2017 7:39 pm

Baptists have traditionally fought any merging of Church and State and shied away from endorsing/funding any candidate. James Dunn would roll over in his grave of he knew this was a possibility.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Joseph Patrick » Thu Feb 02, 2017 7:59 pm

Jim wrote:I was watching and that's about what he said. It will be hard to do since the sensitivity-enhanced democrats will do everything to block it since, naturally, it's a creature of those racist republicans.

Joseph Patrick...aka Gerry Milligan,
Jim, I have difficulty understanding what you are saying...does everything you comment on hinge on Democrats and Republicans?
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Feb 02, 2017 8:27 pm

All I have heard is that Trump vowed to work toward abolishing the Johnson amendment.

My thought is that, biblically, churches should not endorse candidates, but that, legally, it is a matter of freedom of speech and freedom of religion should be nobody's business whether they do or not.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Haruo » Thu Feb 02, 2017 8:30 pm

I'm inclined to side with Mr. Vaughn on this one. Freedom of speech (including religious speech) ought to be as unfettered as possible. On the other hand, the tax exemption may have to go away for the freedom to work.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Joseph Patrick » Thu Feb 02, 2017 9:06 pm

Haruo wrote:I'm inclined to side with Mr. Vaughn on this one. Freedom of speech (including religious speech) ought to be as unfettered as possible. On the other hand, the tax exemption may have to go away for the freedom to work.

From Joseph Patrick...aka Gerry Milligan
Haruo, while I tend to lean toward freedom of speech, what happens when you have mega churches receiving millions (or just one) of dollars to endorse a candidate? The way we now have these PAC's spending so much money, how long until they start throwing money at a church?
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Sandy » Thu Feb 02, 2017 9:34 pm

I see some inherent problems for churches that step outside a Biblical mission and purpose to endorse a political candidate.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Feb 02, 2017 9:37 pm

I have no problem with the exemption going away if that is what it takes to make free speech work in this case. Maybe there is some other angle to work on, though.

Correct if I am wrong, but before the Johnson amendment, weren't churches both free in their speech and tax exempt? It's not like the Johnson amendment first created the idea of tax exemption for churches, did it?

Inherent problems in what sense, Sandy? Related to the government, internal, both, or something else?
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Jim » Thu Feb 02, 2017 9:45 pm

The First Amendment deals with the relationship between government and speech/religion. Individuals and non-government institutions can make their own rules, if any needed, about both. For instance, some words are prohibited in this Forum, but this is not affected by the First Amendment; however, the old “yelling 'fire' in the theater” matter can present some problems.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby William Thornton » Fri Feb 03, 2017 6:49 am

Joseph Patrick wrote:
Haruo wrote:I'm inclined to side with Mr. Vaughn on this one. Freedom of speech (including religious speech) ought to be as unfettered as possible. On the other hand, the tax exemption may have to go away for the freedom to work.

From Joseph Patrick...aka Gerry Milligan
Haruo, while I tend to lean toward freedom of speech, what happens when you have mega churches receiving millions (or just one) of dollars to endorse a candidate? The way we now have these PAC's spending so much money, how long until they start throwing money at a church?


Ever hear of walking around money?

Hardly any rule affecting churches means less than this one. It's not enforced. It doesn't restrict free speech. Any pastor or church may endorse a candidate, although contributions to the church down the road may not be tax deductible. High profile pastors already make personal endorsements. There may be unintended consequences by eliminating the rule.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Dave Roberts » Fri Feb 03, 2017 9:32 am

Trump is making a political show for the benefit of a narrow slice of the evangelical movement. What the church tends to lose in credibility and respect to me outweighs any gain in the freedom to endorse from the pulpit and give money to candidates. In every church where I have served as their pastor, there is generally a predominant political party, but there are always those of the opposite party and those who class themselves as independents. The endorsement of candidates kills ministry to those who would not agree with the endorsement.

It has been my privilege to pastor congregations that have had political candidates within them. The most interesting was having two members in the church running against each other. If we become endorsers of candidates, the church is the loser, not the winner. We need the high ground to address issues on moral and spiritual grounds, not to be subsumed into a political structure. By the way, it is called the Johnson Amendment because it was sponsored by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and heartily endorsed by President Eisenhower--how much more bipartisan could it have been.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby KeithE » Fri Feb 03, 2017 10:51 am

I believe groups of people (churches, businesses, unions) joined for some other purpose should not be allowed to contribute to political causes. The political opinions of the individuals within that group can easily be overwritten. And such groups should lose their tax exemption if they do (yes many corporations in effect are tax exempt and pay nothing.)

I'd say such groups can speak out on political causes and I wish the liberal churches would do so more forcefully. Christ was after all more aligned with modern liberalism than selfish and/or self-righteous conservatism. But leave contributions to individuals to safeguard democracy. Now as a practical natter to keep the peace, I would recommend pastors should not endorse candidates (as Dave points out above). But in balance I'd say they have the right to speak out as a person particularly out of the pulpit.

This means keep the Johnson Amendment, overturn Citizens United and reject Gorsuch.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby KeithE » Fri Feb 03, 2017 11:00 am

I'd also say Trump is only pushing this because he believes he will get the majority of the religious vote in 2020 (if he lasts that long). Let's prove him wrong.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Sandy » Fri Feb 03, 2017 1:10 pm

Rvaughn wrote:I have no problem with the exemption going away if that is what it takes to make free speech work in this case. Maybe there is some other angle to work on, though.

Correct if I am wrong, but before the Johnson amendment, weren't churches both free in their speech and tax exempt? It's not like the Johnson amendment first created the idea of tax exemption for churches, did it?

Inherent problems in what sense, Sandy? Related to the government, internal, both, or something else?


Internal, mainly. How would you determine who to endorse? I've never been a member of a church that was 100% behind any specific political candidate. There would be people who might be favorable toward the candidate, but wouldn't want the church to lend its name to the campaign in endorsement because such a move might look inconsistent with its mission and purpose, or cheapen the gospel that it preaches. And how does the church explain why it values the opinion of what might be as few as 15% of its membership less than the other 85%?

Churches do not pay taxes, and are quick to use the argument of religious liberty if they sense any encroachment or interference from government. If they want an endorsement voice, the price to pay for that is for their income and property to be subject to taxation. If money given to the church is truly a ministry gift, or a "tithe" as we like to call it, to subject it to taxation is to limit the purpose for which it was given. That's a two way street, which opens the door to interference with religious liberty.

I can guess, but still not be completely certain, that 100% of the membership where I attend supported Hillary Clinton. But I don't know for sure, and it's not an environment where that question would ever be raised. But the congregation would never cheapen the integrity of the body by endorsing a political candidate. And I would walk out of any church that did.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Fri Feb 03, 2017 4:06 pm

I also believe that it is an internal issue for churches, and that the government should stay out of it. Seems to me that political and religious speech is just the kind of speech the first amendment is intended to protect, and that the government has not been beckoned to intercede when the lines of political and religious speech are blurred.

Let a church rather than the government determine who to endorse or whether to endorse. Let that church reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of its choice. If a church chooses to act in a way that kills its ministry, let it self-destruct.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Dave Roberts » Fri Feb 03, 2017 4:32 pm

Rvaughn wrote:I also believe that it is an internal issue for churches, and that the government should stay out of it. Seems to me that political and religious speech is just the kind of speech the first amendment is intended to protect, and that the government has not been beckoned to intercede when the lines of political and religious speech are blurred.

Let a church rather than the government determine who to endorse or whether to endorse. Let that church reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of its choice. If a church chooses to act in a way that kills its ministry, let it self-destruct.


All the Johnson amendment basically says is that those churches who wish to utilize a 501(c)3 status for contributions must all play by the same rules. Any church wishing to forgo the status is free already to do whatever they please, as I understand the rule.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:35 pm

Dave, I believe this is it, in Title 26 U.S. Code § 2522 (a) 2 - Charitable and similar gifts:

(2) a corporation, or trust, or community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), including the encouragement of art and the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, which is not disqualified for tax exemption under section 501(c)(3) by reason of attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office;

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/2522

Below is an IRS bulletin opinion on it, from 2007:
https://www.irs.gov/irb/2007-25_IRB/ar09.html

I have heard some discussion that churches are automatically tax-exempt and if they don't apply for 501 (c) 3 status the Johnson Amendment doesn't apply to them. The following site seems to imply that, though the main topic is reasons to apply for 501 (c) 3 status.
http://cullinanelaw.com/nonprofit-law-basics-does-a-church-need-to-apply-for-501c3-status-to-be-considered-tax-exempt/

For all the discussion of the Johnson Amendment, churches, and revocation of tax-exempt status, I doubt that this have happened very much, if at all -- and a lot of churches sure walk the line and even cross over it.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:55 pm

BTW, there is a lot of political lore in Texas about Lyndon Johnson, who apparently was a very astute politician. One of the stories I've heard was that Johnson got this amendment passed because churches supported his opponent in a Senate reelection bid. Seems that is only partially true. It was (at least primarily) a non-profit foundation that opposed him rather than churches:

Johnson believed that a private Texas foundation had financially supported his opponent in a tough election. After he was elected, Johnson proposed an amendment to the bill which eventually became the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.11 That amendment provided that 501(c)(3) organizations may "not participate in, or intervene in ...any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.""

There is no record of the debate, if any, surrounding the passage of that amendment. The logical argument favoring such an amendment is that those corporations qualifying for the section 501(c)(3) tax subsidy should not be permitted to directly or indirectly use that subsidy to support candidates for office. However, it is unlikely that Johnson was motivated to propose the amendment because of logic or his understanding of the nature of 501(c)(3) organizations. It is much more likely that Johnson was motivated by a desire to exact revenge on the foundation he believed supported his opponent and to prevent it and other nonprofit corporations from acting similarly in the future. This political decision has significantly affected a large number of nonprofit corporations."
http://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2606&context=caselrev


In 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection in his home state of Texas.50 Senator Johnson faced a primary challenge from one Dudley Dougherty, a rancher-oilman, who also happened to be a millionaire. Dougherty was supported by the Committee for Constitutional Government (“Committee”). The Committee, a conservative political group, produced material which, among other things, advocated limiting the treaty-making authority of the President. The material also advocated voting for Senator Johnson’s opponent, Dougherty, and against Johnson.
http://www.law.du.edu/documents/denver-university-law-review/v86-2/Blair.pdf


For better or worse, looks like Lyndon Johnson and the Committee for Constitutional Government passed this legacy on to us.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Shawn Koester » Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:09 pm

As a proud third generation Baptist, this is outrageous. So many of our brother and sister Baptists faced persecution from establishment churches like Congregationalists to ensure church and state were separate. Separation benefits both the church and the state. When the state co-opts the church it loses its prophetic voice. Jesus is our Lord not Caesar. As preachers we can speak about the issues of the day and we can be prophetic but we cannot endorse or oppose candidates. I speak as an independent. The church is not just Democrats, or Republicans, it is for independents and non-affiliateds too. It is with freedom that Christ bought us. A free church in the free state and I will defend it to my death.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:31 pm

Shawn Koester wrote:As a proud third generation Baptist, this is outrageous. So many of our brother and sister Baptists faced persecution from establishment churches like Congregationalists to ensure church and state were separate. Separation benefits both the church and the state. When the state co-opts the church it loses its prophetic voice. Jesus is our Lord not Caesar. As preachers we can speak about the issues of the day and we can be prophetic but we cannot endorse or oppose candidates. I speak as an independent. The church is not just Democrats, or Republicans, it is for independents and non-affiliateds too. It is with freedom that Christ bought us. A free church in the free state and I will defend it to my death.
Shawn, you make some good points, although I am unsure just what you think is outrageous. Trump on the Johnson Amendment? The Johnson Amendment? Trading voice for tax benefits? All of the above? I agree that we should be prophetic rather than political, but I think the government needs to stay out of what can and can't be said in the pulpit. If that means trading in a tax exemption,then so be it.

Here is a quote I read today on the blog of Pastor Wade Burleson of Emmanuel BC, Enid, OK:
"In our day of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, a pastor would have to be blind and deaf not to know the preferences and personal biases of church members, whether it be about politics, entertainment or religion."
I think Burleson's statement might give us all pause. What he says regarding the pastor knowing the preferences & biases of the church members is also true of the church members knowing about the pastor -- unless possibly you're not on social media at all. While we carefully guard the pulpit from endorsing politicians, we might not be all that careful otherwise. Many of us here have said who we endorsed.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Shawn Koester » Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:38 pm

I think Trump is outrageous for trying to do away with the Johnson amendment. That's what my argument is about.
Rvaughn wrote:
Shawn Koester wrote:As a proud third generation Baptist, this is outrageous. So many of our brother and sister Baptists faced persecution from establishment churches like Congregationalists to ensure church and state were separate. Separation benefits both the church and the state. When the state co-opts the church it loses its prophetic voice. Jesus is our Lord not Caesar. As preachers we can speak about the issues of the day and we can be prophetic but we cannot endorse or oppose candidates. I speak as an independent. The church is not just Democrats, or Republicans, it is for independents and non-affiliateds too. It is with freedom that Christ bought us. A free church in the free state and I will defend it to my death.
Shawn, you make some good points, although I am unsure just what you think is outrageous. Trump on the Johnson Amendment? The Johnson Amendment? Trading voice for tax benefits? All of the above? I agree that we should be prophetic rather than political, but I think the government needs to stay out of what can and can't be said in the pulpit. If that means trading in a tax exemption,then so be it.

Here is a quote I read today on the blog of Pastor Wade Burleson of Emmanuel BC, Enid, OK:
"In our day of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, a pastor would have to be blind and deaf not to know the preferences and personal biases of church members, whether it be about politics, entertainment or religion."
I think Burleson's statement might give us all pause. What he says regarding the pastor knowing the preferences & biases of the church members is also true of the church members knowing about the pastor -- unless possibly you're not on social media at all. While we carefully guard the pulpit from endorsing politicians, we might not be all that careful otherwise. Many of us here have said who we endorsed.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Shawn Koester » Fri Feb 17, 2017 6:45 pm

Tax exemption for churches is a two way street. Churches can be free from taxation if they avoid partisan engagement- the endorsing or opposing candidates. I can understand where losing voice for tax exemption can be problematic.
Rvaughn wrote:
Shawn Koester wrote:As a proud third generation Baptist, this is outrageous. So many of our brother and sister Baptists faced persecution from establishment churches like Congregationalists to ensure church and state were separate. Separation benefits both the church and the state. When the state co-opts the church it loses its prophetic voice. Jesus is our Lord not Caesar. As preachers we can speak about the issues of the day and we can be prophetic but we cannot endorse or oppose candidates. I speak as an independent. The church is not just Democrats, or Republicans, it is for independents and non-affiliateds too. It is with freedom that Christ bought us. A free church in the free state and I will defend it to my death.
Shawn, you make some good points, although I am unsure just what you think is outrageous. Trump on the Johnson Amendment? The Johnson Amendment? Trading voice for tax benefits? All of the above? I agree that we should be prophetic rather than political, but I think the government needs to stay out of what can and can't be said in the pulpit. If that means trading in a tax exemption,then so be it.

Here is a quote I read today on the blog of Pastor Wade Burleson of Emmanuel BC, Enid, OK:
"In our day of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, a pastor would have to be blind and deaf not to know the preferences and personal biases of church members, whether it be about politics, entertainment or religion."
I think Burleson's statement might give us all pause. What he says regarding the pastor knowing the preferences & biases of the church members is also true of the church members knowing about the pastor -- unless possibly you're not on social media at all. While we carefully guard the pulpit from endorsing politicians, we might not be all that careful otherwise. Many of us here have said who we endorsed.
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Rvaughn » Sat Feb 18, 2017 12:01 am

Thanks for clarifying. I figured that was what you meant, but wanted to be sure. To me a church having their own voice independent from the government's oversight -- whether I like that voice or not, and whether or not they use it wisely -- is more important than the tax issue. If they must be taxed for that to happen, let them be taxed.

The Wade Burleson quote was a general observation and not directly related to what you said. Here at BaptistLife the preponderance of members seem to be opposed to endorsing candidates in the pulpit/church (as am I). Dave Roberts stated above, "The endorsement of candidates kills ministry to those who would not agree with the endorsement." This is very likely true in most cases. Yet I find it interesting on the other hand that most BaptistLife members are also fairly vocal about politics and that the Politics Forum is one of the more popular. I don't think it is likely that, given the amount of social media most people are on, that our views are unknown to our churches and our friends and those to whom we minister. (I make it a habit to not talk about politics on Facebook, though I occasionally slip up. I have too many friends on different sides of issues. And I guess I'm too old to interested in Twittering and Sputtering and such like.)

Maybe most people will never find their way here to see what we write. :o
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Re: The Johnson Amendment

Postby Haruo » Sat Feb 18, 2017 3:25 am

Surely you're not as old as the President, and he certainly like Sputtering on Twitter! ;-)
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