Fact Check: President Trump has NOT Repealed the Johnson Amendment
According to recorded excerpts by NBC News, in a closed-door meeting with Evangelical leaders on Monday, August 27, 2018, President Trump once again asserted that he has gotten “rid of” the Johnson Amendment. However, despite the President’s belief, he has not actually done so – the law remains in place.
The Johnson Amendment, named after Lyndon B. Johnson, was a 1954 amendment to the tax code. It prohibits all 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations (including churches), to whom contributions are tax deductible, from participating in political campaigns (specifically, supporting or opposing a candidate). The purpose of the rule was to prevent tax-deductible money from being used to support or oppose candidates for public office. The Johnson Amendment does not prohibit all electoral activity, and 501(c)(3) organizations may still actively participate in the election process.
Repealing the Johnson Amendment would either require an act of Congress or the Supreme Court ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Neither of these possibilities have occurred. While there is frequently language introduced by Republican lawmakers to repeal it, such legislation has historically been unsuccessful. Most recently, in the Republican tax reform bill in 2017, repeal language was dropped due to the Senate’s reconciliation rules.
The President’s misunderstanding of the Johnson Amendment and lawmaking has continued for some time. In February of 2017, at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President incorrectly informed attendees that the Johnson Amendment was dead. The President then issued an executive order that addressed free speech and religious liberty at the National Day of Prayer in May of 2017.
The executive order instructed the Department of Treasury not to “take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office … ” In other words, it maintains the status quo – the Treasury department should not take action against a religious organization if the religious organization has not engaged in political campaign intervention.
Though the majority of Americans believe that churches should not endorse specific candidates for public office, the potential repeal of the Johnson Amendment is likely to rear its head again, most likely when Congress drafts appropriations legislation for the next fiscal year.
Bolder Advocacy will continue to monitor developments in this space.