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Preaching Politics: 5 Fast Facts about how the Johnson Amendment affects your 501(c)(3) organization

by Sandra Pfau Englund on Feb 07, 2017

President Trump stated in his address at the National Prayer Breakfast in January 2017 that he intended to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Here’s five (5) fast facts about the Johnson Amendment and what 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including tax-exempt churches, may and may not do under current law.

  1. The Johnson Amendment applies to all 501(c)(3) organizations, not just churches.
  2. The Johnson Amendment, named for its sponsor then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, passed in 1954, prohibits all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
  3. The Johnson Amendment is narrow in scope.  Churches and other nonprofits may engage in voter education activities and voter registration drives.  Pastors may preach about social and political issues of concern, and churches may publish “issue guides” for voters.
  4. The Johnson Amendment is not about the free speech of pastors.  Conservative groups say that they want the law overturned to allow pastors to preach freely about politics. Overturning the law, however, will allow tax-free donations to be made to churches that could then be used to support political candidates.  Overturning the Johnson Amendment will allow churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations to funnel large sums of money into the political arena.
  5. The IRS does not take action against pastors who preach politics.  The IRS has rarely, if ever, acted against a pastor and his/her church due to political speech in a sermon.  Reports state that only 1 of 2000 clergy that have challenged the law since 2008 have been audited; in that case the IRS took no action against the pastor.

What do you think? Should 501(c)(3) organizations be allowed to collect political contributions and participate in political campaigns?   

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