Tough Sledding for GOP’s Johnson Amendment Repeal

Johnson Amendment

It was no ordinary Friday on Capitol Hill, where a flurry of last-minute tax talk is making Congress’s fly-out day much busier than usual. And while Republicans are closer to closing the deal than ever, not all of the developments in conference have been positive ones.

After two years of hammering away at the issue, President Trump got the news late last night that most conservatives feared: the Senate parliamentarian was striking the language that repealed the Johnson Amendment, insisting it was too “policy-oriented” to comply with the chamber’s strict budget rules. Although the blow to one of the White House’s top priorities was tough, it wasn’t completely unexpected. Under the reconciliation process, GOP senators have to prove that everything in their bill is fiscal in nature. And while stripping churches of their tax-exempt status clearly qualifies, Democrats argued long and hard to the contrary.

Of course, the Left has had plenty of practice misrepresenting the debate, since they’ve been at it long before Donald Trump. They understand, as we do, that a politically-engaged Christian is an influential one. And they’ll do everything they can to keep evangelicals from flexing their muscle like they did in 2016. That includes keeping tight control over what religious leaders can and can’t say. For years, they’ve used the IRS to scare off faith groups and pastors from talking openly about the political issues of the day (which is not only antithetical to America’s roots, but outright unconstitutional).

The whole idea of the Johnson Amendment is insulting, argues Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Christiana Holcomb. “It allows federal bureaucrats to determine what pastors can and can’t say,” which is an obvious violation of the First Amendment. “The idea that the government needs to police the church also assumes the goodness of government. With the IRS as the government agency overseeing church and pastor speech, that assumption is — frankly — laughable. We need only look at the many scandals the IRS has been involved in the past few years to see that it can’t be trusted. At the top of the list is its targeting of conservative groups. To put it mildly, impartiality is not the IRS’s strong suit.”

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She’s right, and the Left’s opposition proves it. The same people who’ve morally bankrupted our nation want to continue gagging religious leaders – or least intimidate them into silence – under the threat of the Lois Lerner-types at the IRS. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), one of the repeal’s biggest champions, understands that better than anyone. “I’m disappointed in the decision of the parliamentarian to not allow the revised text of the Johnson Amendment into the tax reform bill,” he said yesterday. “The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability, through our tax code, to limit free speech. Nonprofits are allowed to lobby Congress or their local elected officials, but the ambiguity of the current tax code keeps nonprofits in constant fear that they might have crossed a line that no other organization has to consider.”

It’s an injustice that conservatives have been trying to correct for decades. We’re deeply grateful for Lankford’s efforts, as well as House Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) for doing everything they could to give men and women of faith the freedom they deserve. And although they didn’t win this time around, the days of the Johnson Amendment are numbered. Thanks to President Trump, this will be an election issue from this day forward. As for FRC, we’ll continue the work we began with Pulpit Freedom initiatives until we’ve legislatively corrected this problem or found a remedy in court.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Tony Perkins
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law. (Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)

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