President Trump’s campaign promise to bring an to end the Johnson Amendment is poised to potentially become reality after the Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced to the House and Senate early this month. The Johnson Amendment has compromised the free speech of churches and other non-profits since 1954, when an angry Lyndon Johnson – who was senator of Texas at the time – introduced the amendment after two business men had opposed him through their not-for-profit organizations. The act gave the IRS power to revoke churches’ 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and has left many pastors crippled with fear to speak out for or against political and social issues or even candidates that are important to them.
An article on The Christian Post further discusses how the Johnson Amendment is dangerous, and advocates for change:
FRC President Tony Perkins, a leading proponent of the measure, asserted that the United States would look much different today if it wasn’t for the pastors throughout American history who cried out for social justice.
“Since the birth of our nation, pastors and churches have been at the forefront of shaping public policy and debate,” Perkins said. “That is where they need to be today. What would America look like today had the Rev. Lyman Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father), a leading abolitionist, or Dr. Martin Luther King been muzzled by the IRS. It would have been a much, much different country than what we see today.”
In an effort to bring change and ease the current restraints on churches and other non-profit organizations, the Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and Senator James Lankford. According to prnewswire.com, the Fairness Act is:
…Aimed at lifting the burden of the “Johnson Amendment” off of churches and other nonprofit organizations, the Free Speech Fairness Act clarifies that political statements by 501(c)(3) organizations are permissible, as long as they are made in the ordinary course of the organization’s activities and any expenditures related to them are de minimis. While churches and charities would still be prohibited from purchasing ads or making other such targeted political expenditures, the bill unshackles speech by making clear that organizations need not fear expressing views in the normal course of business.
Family Research Council similarly details:
The Fairness Act would restore free speech to churches, charities, and their leaders who, since the Johnson Amendment’s passage, have effectively been silenced because of their charitable nature. The Fairness Act amends the Johnson Amendment to allow for political activity that is 1) made in the ordinary course of the 501(c)(3) organization’s regular and customary activities, so long as the activities carry out the organization’s tax exempt purpose, and 2) so long as the organization does not incur more than de minimis incremental costs.
As noted by baptistmessage.com “during the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, February 2, Trump promised to ‘totally destroy’ the [Johnson] amendment.” It seems that for the first time in decades, churches may once again be allowed to speak to political and social issues, without the sinister fear of repercussions from government. With the Free Speech Fairness Act now introduced, a win for expanded freedom of speech for churches and non-profits is hopeful, a prospect that should excite every American with constitutional and family values.
The most recent Fairness Act applies to nonprofits, not just churches and pastors, however it would not render churches or nonprofits the same as a 501(c)(4); that is, it would not turn churches or charities into political action committees. Alliance Defending Freedom calls the bill ‘constitutionally sound’ saying:
The bill removes a very unconstitutional restriction on speech that has existed for over 60 years. By applying it to all 501(c)(3) organizations, Sen. Lankford and Rep. Hice have introduced a constitutionally sound bill that provides relief to exempt organizations and removes the IRS from the speech police business.
The introduction of this bill is the first step towards remedying the problem created by Congress in the first place with the original legislation contained in the Johnson amendment. It is by no means guaranteed that the Fairness Act will make it through the checks and balances of our republican form of government but the fact that the legislation has been introduced it encouraging.