LISTEN: The Truth About the Johnson Amendment: Pastors Frequently Preach Politics, but the IRS Rarely Goes After Them
The effect of Trump’s executive order—and why the Johnson Amendment is rarely enforced.
Last week, President Trump issued an executive order.
The order entitled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” professes to extend political speech protections for pastors and religious organizations, aiming to let them talk about politics without penalty.
The executive order’s key feature: fulfilling a Trump campaign promise to end the Johnson Amendment, legislation that has discouraged non-profits, including churches, from endorsing political candidates for six decades. (Despite Trump’s claims that many wanted this relief, research from last year didn’t support this statement.)
While most non-profits and churches have refrained from explicit endorsements, the IRS has largely taken a hands-off role in enforcing the law.
“The IRS usually has not enforced the provision,” said Thomas Berg, a religious liberty scholar.
So what keeps the government silent? While it makes sense that the government would want a check on “powerful, tax-exempt organizations using the benefit of tax-exemption to toss the election one way or another with big money,” the IRS would quickly run into First Amendment issues if it actually tried to stop churches, said Berg.
SOURCE: Christianity Today: “Quick to Listen”