Christian evangelical voters were key in electing newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Among the reasons for their votes were the promises Trump and Pence made to the faithful on the campaign trail and the support they showed to pastors and churches.
One of those commitments was to peel back the Johnson Amendment, which for more than 60 years has restricted the free speech of pastors and churches.
Stated Trump at the Republican National Convention in July, “An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.” According to the Daily Caller, he echoed that sentiment at the Value Voters Summit in September: “We’re going to get rid of that law … we’re going to get rid of it so fast.”
“Pastors are charged by God to always speak biblical truth from the pulpit,” said PPN president Sam Rohrer. “From abortion and marriage to tyranny in office, the Bible is very clear on social, cultural and political issues. Efforts by government to intimidate pastors on preaching biblical truth not only violate God’s direct command but are also unconstitutional. We encourage pastors to stand up for truth by continuing to urge President Trump and Vice President Pence to make good on their commitment to repeal the Johnson Amendment.”
Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and passed by Congress in 1954, the law prohibits tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other nonprofits—from lobbying elected officials, campaigning on behalf of a political party, and supporting or opposing candidates for office. Reports the Daily Caller, “Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code bestows tax-exempt status upon nonprofit groups as long as they don’t ‘participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for office.’ (The ‘in opposition to’ clause was added in 1986.)”
So, for example, a church opposed to abortion is prohibited from explicitly supporting a pro-life candidate running for Congress.
Research from the American Culture & Faith Institute has found that while 90 percent of pastors believe the Bible has much to say about today’s pressing political and societal issues, less than 10 percent are talking about those issues from the pulpit. Rohrer noted that many pastors fear losing their church’s 501(c)(3) status and, therefore, avoid preaching on political issues.
“Churches, by their very nature, operate under God’s jurisdiction and as such have historically been tax-exempt,” Rohrer said. “They predated the IRS and any another-man made provision such as incorporation or 501(c)(3) status, and these rights remain inviolate. When it comes to preaching the truth of God’s Word, the pastor’s obligation is to God, not government. This chance to repeal the Johnson Amendment is an ideal opportunity for pastors across this nation to reaffirm their biblical duty and constitutional rights.”