Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Freedom of Speech Trumps IRS Regs

One plank of the Republican Party’s platform that is not getting a lot of publicity is worth our attention. It could be an important game changer when it comes to the Church and politics.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump introduced his vice presidential pick by reviewing a list of the issues the team would be supporting.

One highlighted the way that churches and other non-profits are forbidden by law from participating in the political system.

He recalled speaking to groups of religious leaders and asking them why they had not spoken out against the positions that some candidates were taking. They told him that if they did so, they could forfeit their tax-exempt status.

The “Johnson Amendment” is a 1954 tax code law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from directly or indirectly endorsing political candidates.

“Section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” the IRS says in defining the law on its official website. “Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.”

According to the IRS, organizations that violate the rule could find their tax-exempt status revoked. The U.S. Postal Service also would renege on special rates enjoyed by non-profits.

“Religion’s voice has been taken away and we’re going to change that,” Trump said just shortly before introducing Gov. Mike Pence.

“We’re going to get rid of that horrible Johnson Amendment and we’re going to let evangelicals, we’re going to let Christians and Jews and people of religion talk without being afraid to talk.”

Trump said he was “so proud” to have made the repeal of the Johnson Amendment a part of the Republican Party’s official 2016 platform.

Years ago, I wrote in this space that denying the Church its voice in the public arena was a violation of the freedom of religion that this country affords us. Being threatened with taxes if we speak out on politics is akin to having to pay for one’s rights. Which of course violates the very definition of a right. A right is something that is intrinsically ours, without having to pay for it. This is the same reason poll taxes are unconstitutional. A basic right is free. There is no charge for it, otherwise it would be called a commodity.

For years, the Catholic Church has been threatened with loss of its tax-exempt status for any intrusion into politics. We have followed the premise of sticking to the issues, not the candidates. It’s a fine line that causes many to remain silent.

The law has been applied unevenly. Candidates parade in and out of smaller community churches, giving speeches and receiving endorsements, but no threats are made against those churches. If it had been a Catholic Church, the IRS would have been all over us.

Now the playing field may be made level and the Church will not have to be so guarded about its every action in the public forum.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s platform has hit on something of great importance to us all – a restoration of the basic freedom of religion and free speech. I hope I’m allowed to say that without putting our status in jeopardy!