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Former Minister, Now a Congressman, Supports Repeal of Johnson Amendment

WASHINGTON (CNS) – People of goodwill can disagree on matters of public policy – even if they’re ordained clergy, and the public policy under debate has the potential to affect the way they conduct their ministry.

The issue is the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 rider inserted by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson into that year’s version of the tax code banning all federally recognized nonprofit organizations – including religious organizations – from endorsing candidates and otherwise participating in partisan political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

The Republican Party made repeal of the amendment a plank in its 2016 convention platform, and President Donald Trump has vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment.

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, a second-term congressman and a co-sponsor of the Free Speech Fairness Act, as the Johnson Amendment repeal bill has been named, is a former Southern Baptist minister who thinks repeal is a good idea.

Until about a decade ago, “I would receive threatening letters” from the IRS that said “we would lose our tax-exempt status if we reviewed political issues,” Hice said. Those letters, he added, were “very threatening, very chilling.”

“Churches have censored themselves right out of participation, right out of keeping their congregations informed,” Hice said. With the Johnson Amendment repealed, “you could address the issues, in my case, from a biblical perspective, and actually endorse a candidate (whose views) that we as a congregation share without fear of losing tax-exempt status or being threatened in any way.”

Hice added the bill would not permit churches to conduct political activities outside of “the normal course of your ministry.” “No-full-page ads” in newspapers would be allowed, although putting something in the church bulletin is OK, he said.

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