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GOP bill allows churches to back candidates, keep tax status

President Trump speaks during an event to announce that Broadcom is moving its global headquarters to the United States, in the Oval Office of the White House, on Nov. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Churches would gain the right to endorse political candidates and still retain their tax-free status under a provision in the House GOP’s tax overhaul plan.


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The bill would repeal a 63-year-old law credited to former President Lyndon Johnson when he served in the Senate.

Critics warn it could open a loophole that could funnel tax-free money into campaigns. The provision would cost $2 billion over the coming decade, according to congressional scorekeepers.

The Johnson amendment law prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign to support or oppose a candidate. If the IRS determines that a group has violated the law, it can revoke its tax-exempt status.

The law doesn’t stop religious groups from weighing in on public policy or organizing in ways that may benefit one side in a campaign.

Democrats have argued that undercutting the law comes too close to mixing church and state. They say religious leaders already have First Amendment rights, just like anyone else. But if they want to get political, they don’t have a constitutional right not to pay taxes.

The GOP plan permits political activity by churches so long as there is a minimal cost.

Campaign finance groups warned the change could have far-reaching implications, turning “churches into tools for secret campaign spending,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United.

Johnson introduced the measure in 1954 when he was a Democratic senator from Texas, driven by his anger over a few nonprofit groups that had attacked him as a communist in a Senate campaign.

The law was signed by a Republican president — Dwight Eisenhower — but Republicans have been criticizing it in recent years and pledged to repeal it as part of the tax overhaul.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May discouraging the IRS from enforcing the law.

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The Associated Press

10 Comments

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  • Rich people need tax breaks. Poor people don’t need medical care. Billionaires need more money. Christians of a certain sort need to ensure theocracy. Who needs a middle class?

  • Endorsing candidates is neither ministry nor mission. While congregants can be encouraged to vote in an informed manner, the pulpit is no place for endorsing any given candidate.

  • Yes, let’s politicize God and imbue him with a Republican or Democratic label. As many people believe that God can be bribed into hating the same people you hate, politicizing God will work well for further dividing our nation. Does anyone see a problem with this?

  • Freedom of speech. I wouldn’t want my place of worship to do it. But I wouldn’t restrict constitutional freedoms either. And don’t give me this bull about chruches being tax exempt. The NFL is tax exempt and that isn’t preventing them from political speech.

  • Great! Bring political party activity into the heart of the church. Exactly what the devil would do to help tear the church apart from the inside. Lord, forgive us.

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