What is the Johnson Amendment?
The Johnson Amendment is a tax provision that prevents 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in political campaigns on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office. The Johnson Amendment is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech, and is a tool the IRS uses to threaten and censor the First Amendment free speech rights of churches, charities, and their leaders. The Johnson Amendment was passed in 1954 and since then, has caused great confusion and concern regarding what tax exempt organizations and their leaders may say about moral issues and political candidates, partly because of the IRS’s inconsistent enforcement of the law.
In fact, the IRS has even been inconsistent in individual cases. For example, the IRS investigated a tax exempt organization called Catholic Answers because it posted two e-letters questioning whether a presidential candidate who supported abortion should present himself for Holy Communion. Following its investigation, the IRS imposed a fine through excise taxes totaling $101.93 for publication of the two e-letters, claiming they violated the Johnson Amendment. However, the IRS later reversed its assessment of the taxes and refunded the fine to Catholic Answers with interest, saying that the political activity was not “willful and flagrant.”