The Free Speech Fairness Act, A Remedy for the Johnson Amendment
It’s an exciting time for religious liberty in America, and today’s press conference on Capitol Hill proves it. This afternoon, I was joined by congressional leaders and pastors from all over the nation as we introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act, H.B. 781. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), and Mike Johnson (R-La.), who will introduce the bill in the House, were all in attendance. A companion bill is being introduced in the Senate by Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.). Several pastors joined us for the press conference and did a great job communicating the need for the Free Speech Fairness Act. Those pastors included Bishop Garland Hunt along with pastors Stephen Broden, Jim Garlow, Hernan Castano, Khanh Huynh and Dean Nelson. Alliance Defending Freedom’s Christiana Holcomb also joined us.
The Free Speech Fairness Act will repeal the Johnson Amendment of the U.S. tax code, which dates to 1954 and was passed without floor or Committee debate. The Johnson Amendment prohibits non-profits and churches from engaging in any activity that might be interpreted as “political,” even if it’s a simple oral or written statement. In 2015 alone, we know of 99 different churches singled out by the IRS for violation of the Johnson Amendment.
This legislation reflects the newly adopted (2016) Republican Party platform language which criticizes the Johnson Amendment for restricting the “First Amendment freedoms of all nonprofit organizations by prohibiting political speech.” The Johnson Amendment is an obviously unconstitutional restraint on free speech. Knowing the IRS has proven to be no friend of religious organizations in the past, it has resorted more frequently to this little-known law in an effort to censor the speech of church and charity leaders.
Pastors have for too long been intimidated into silence. As I told the press today, Dr. Martin Luther King — the greatest “political pastor” in the nation — spoke forcefully from the pulpit about how the issues of the day were to be driven by pastors and the people in pews. For the whole of American history, churches have been at the forefront of shaping debate and public policy. That’s where they ought to stay.
I urge you to call your Member of Congress and urge them to vote “yes” on the Free Speech Fairness Act. It’s time to let our pastors speak.
We live-streamed our news conference, so be sure to visit our Facebook page for full commentary from all the speakers.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.
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