Posted: 02/02/17 14:19
by Dave Mindeman
While Donald Trump is intent on "building the wall", he seems just as determined to destroy another one...an important one.
"I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution," Trump said during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, a high-profile event bringing together faith leaders, politicians and dignitaries.
So, you ask, what is the "Johnson Amendment"?
The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code which prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 501(c)(3) organizations are the most common type of nonprofit organization the United States, ranging from charitable foundations to universities and churches. The amendment was enacted in 1954 and is named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, who proposed the bill.
As you can see, we have had this amendment for over half a century. And it is considered one of the pillars in the church-state wall. But President Trump now believes that pastors (because of social conservative support for Trump) should be allowed to make endorsements from the pulpit...which is currently prohibited unless you are willing to give up your tax exempt status.
This particular rule has already been badly weakened over the last few years as 501(c)(3) organizations have benefited from lenient advocacy rulings. And, it can be argued, that it is rarely enforced. But it serves a distinct purpose and unless we want to go down the theocracy path, it needs to be strengthened and frankly, given more teeth.
Some say what difference does it make if a minister encourages people to vote one way or another? Why is that different from anybody else?
Consider the fact that these church leaders have not just personal sway in regards to persuasion, they have "moral" influence. Most people can tell that if their minister would endorse someone, it is just one of many factors to take into account when determining how they will vote. But then there are others who are low information voters....voters who struggle to get by and cannot keep up with news and information, who may take the advocacy of their minister as a "moral obligation".
This is not some infringement on free speech....this is just one more method (like unlimited corporate money) of reducing the influence of elections to the privileged few. A means to indulge religious thinking into a higher plane on governmental influence. Which, if taken too far, would violate the Constitutional prohibition against "establishment of a religion".
The First Amendment wording goes this way...
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Republicans have taken to using the "prohibiting the free exercise thereof" as some kind of awkward invasion into the "right to privacy" regarding reproductive rights and birth control.
Yet, the slippery slope to theocracy, which needs the protections of the Johnson Amendment, are not considered a threat to that same First Amendment.
They are...... and we must resist Trump on yet another front.