Eliminating the Johnson Amendment

Photo Courtesy of Johnson City Press

Ashton Nanninga

Separation of church and state is an ideology that has been held within American society since the writing of the Constitution. Whether the two have actually been separate entities is a completely different argument within itself. However, on February 2, President Donald Trump released a promise stating that he would “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from influencing or contributing to political campaigns. If this amendment is destroyed, it will entirely abolish any separation of church and state that still remains today.

Allowing tax-exempt organizations, such as churches and charities, to participate in political campaigns is frustrating. As a tax-paying citizen, I find it appalling that a tax-exempt corporation would be able to influence and lobby during political campaigns. If such an entity does want a voice during the political process, then they should be obligated to pay taxes like every other organization and citizen in the United States.

Another reason that President Trump is supportive of eliminating the Johnson Amendment is because most religious tax-exempt organizations align with his political views. Permitting these organizations to participate in partisan politics will help support and push the ideas of the Republican Party.

President Trump stated, “You have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits.”

He made this statement while addressing the religious sector of his political base.

“An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views,” Trump said.

These statements from the president only support the idea for the reason behind abolishing the amendment. Even though President Trump is behind this, Congress also has to be on board for the amendment to be entirely eradicated. According to Erik Ortiz from NBC News, some of the Republicans within Congress are advocating for something known as the Free Speech Fairness Act. This act would still bar churches and other tax-exempt organizations from spending money on political ads. But, it would allow for them to make political statements “in the ordinary course of the organization’s activities.”

Now this isn’t a solution for the problem we are facing, but it does put at least some sanctions on the political involvement of the organizations of the matter.

Whether or not any of the aforementioned acts will go through uphold as law is unknown.
It is a slippery slope when the separation of church and state is men-tioned.

It is hard to say that any separation between the two still exists, but removing the amendment whol-ly would extinguish any division that is still in effect today. As long as these organizations wish to remain tax-exempt then they should keep their political opinions to themselves. If they wish to participate then they can compensate for their partisan involvement just as the rest of us do: by paying taxes.

For now, we can only anticipate the decision Congress will make to support or dismiss the idea placed forth by President Trump. Hopefully, Congress will not fully back the promise made. But, for the time being, it is just a waiting game.