May 04, 2017
As grateful as we are for the president's executive order on religious liberty, there's no substitute for congressional action. And today, Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pushed us closer to that with a special hearing on our First Freedom. As part of the push to formally roll back the Johnson Amendment, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on a hot topic, "Examining a Church's Right to Free Speech." FRC's Government Affairs General Counsel, Mandi Ancalle, was asked to testify on the importance of giving the church back its voice in the public square. Here's a portion of what she told members of the committee:
"Churches and other nonprofit organizations have important roles in society -- helping the sick, feeding the poor, counseling the down-trodden -- ministering to people in need. Because of their special role in society, they are tax exempt. For almost two hundred years, their work and nonprofit status did not compromise their ability to speak freely about political candidates and issues. That is, until 1954 when then-Senator Lyndon Johnson used his political power to weaken organizations politically opposed to him by conditioning nonprofit organizations' tax-exempt status on their remaining silent on political candidates.
Since its passage, the Johnson Amendment has been used to muzzle and censor pastors and leaders of nonprofit organizations and to chill the political speech of tax-exempt organizations, religious and non-religious, on both sides of the aisle... Penalizing pastors and leaders of other 501(c)(3) organizations – and muzzling them because of their nonprofit status – is an unconstitutional restriction on speech."
Leaders of the House and Senate have tried to remedy that with the Free Speech Fairness Act. Instead of abolishing the Johnson Amendment, this bill fixes it so that the IRS can no longer breathe down the necks of nonprofits and religious groups, threatening to take away their tax exempt status. "It's time that we eliminate the targeting of the IRS. Enough is enough and this has been going on for far too long," Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), one of the bill's co-authors, said. "And this is absolutely unconscionable that our government would force individuals to choose between their constitutionally protected rights or their faith." For more on the issue, check out Congressman Hice's talk at FRC headquarters earlier this week.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.