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The Honorable Tom GravesChairmanHouse Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General GovernmentWashington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Mike QuigleyRanking MemberHouse Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General GovernmentWashington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Graves and Ranking Member Quigley:
The [#] undersigned organizations write to strongly oppose the language in Section 116 of the 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. This provision would make it effectively impossible for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to enforce a long-standing federal law, sometimes referred to as the Johnson Amendment, insofar as it applies to houses of worship.
The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose candidates. Weakening current law would allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches for endorsements, dividing congregations and opening them up to the flow of secret money. Americans do not want our charities and houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics. We must keep this valuable safeguard that protects our houses of worship and our political process.
Under the current law, which has been in place for the last six decades, houses of worship have maintained robust free speech rights and can speak out on any political and social issues that they see as important. They currently 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 cannot endorse or oppose candidates and maintain their special tax-exempt status.
Section 116 would make it very difficult for the IRS to investigate claims that churches have violated the law by requiring consent from the IRS Commissioner for each investigation and notification to two committees in Congress before such investigations commence. The first requirement would slow down, if not functionally halt, the pursuit of 501(c)(3) violations, while the second would only further politicize these investigations.
Additionally, although the current law applies to all tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, Section 116 would apply only to houses of worship. By giving houses of worship special treatment in the enforcement of IRS restrictions on intervention in political campaigns, the amendment raises serious concerns under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and undermines religious freedom.
We firmly urge you to oppose including language that would weaken the law that preventshouses of worship from engaging in political endorsements.
African American Ministers In ActionAlliance for Strong Families and CommunitiesAmerican AtheistsAmerican Conference of CantorsAmerican Humanist AssociationAmerican Jewish Committee (AJC)Americans United for Separation of Church and StateAnti-Defamation LeagueBaptist Joint Committee for Religious LibertyBend the Arc Jewish ActionCatholics for ChoiceCenter for InquiryCentral Conference of American RabbisCitizens for Responsibility and Ethics in WashingtonCouncil on FoundationsDemocracy 21The Episcopal ChurchEnd Citizens UnitedEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaFriends Committee on National LegislationHadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.Hindu American FoundationHuman Rights CampaignIndependent SectorInterfaith AllianceJewish Council For Public AffairsThe Jewish Federations of North AmericaJWIMedical Students for ChoiceMethodist Federation for Social ActionMuslim Public Affairs CouncilNational Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good ShepherdNational Center for Lesbian RightsNational Council of ChurchesNational Council of Jewish WomenNational Council of NonprofitsNational Human Services AssemblyNew Ways MinistryNursing Students for Sexual & Reproductive HealthPeople For the American WayPublic CitizenThe Reconstructionist Rabbinical AssociationReligious InstituteRootstrikers Project at Demand ProgressSecular Coalition for AmericaUnion for Reform JudaismUnitarian Universalist AssociationVolunteers of AmericaWomen of Reform JudaismWomen's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)