This morning, President Trump (notice a theme in these blog posts?) told a group of faith leaders that he plans to repeal the Johnson amendment. Have no idea what that means? Read on, my friend – read on.
Many people don’t realize that churches are exempt from paying federal taxes. Whether or not you agree with that policy, you can at least understand the logic; churches engage in a lot of charitable activity, like providing free meals to people who need it, so they deserve to get the same tax exemptions that non-religious charitable organizations get.
But here’s the catch: nonprofits cannot get tax exemptions if they endorse political candidates. It’s pretty simple: the government won’t give you a tax break for engaging in political activity. Charitable activity, yes – because we want to encourage that kind of behavior. Political activity, not so much. Go ahead and endorse candidates all you want, but we taxpayers aren’t going to pick up the tab.
…until now. Trump has promised to repeal the law that says churches and other nonprofits can’t endorse political candidates and still get tax breaks. This is one of the most fundamental legal separations we have between church and state, and he wants to kiss it goodbye.
Here’s what Trump told a group of pastors back in September:
The Johnson amendment has blocked our pastors and ministers and others from speaking their minds from their own pulpits. If they want to talk about Christianity, if they want to preach, if they want to talk about politics, they’re unable to do so.
Side note: that’s not true. Pastors can preach all they want about religion – they just can’t endorse politicians. But I digress. Trump continued:
If they want to do it, they take a tremendous risk that they lose their tax-exempt status. All religious leaders should be able to freely express their thoughts and feelings on religious matters. And I will repeal the Johnson amendment if I am elected your president, I promise.
Again – pastors can already freely express their thoughts and feelings on religious matters. It makes me wonder if Trump has ever been to church. As someone who attended religious services every Sunday for 12 years of my life, I can tell you: pastors talk about Christianity. A lot.
Secular Values Voter explains why this is all so troubling in a great blog post.
Religious institutions enjoy a privileged status. They are exempt from paying taxes and from disclosing financial information, including their sources of income and their expenditures. These benefits are a privilege, not a right. We grant churches and other nonprofits their tax-exempt status in the hope that they will contribute to the betterment of society, not participate in partisan politics.
The good news? We have time to fight Trump on this. Take action here: http://action.secular.org/secular/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=269893.