Yesterday, by a margin of 211 to 198, the U.S. House of Representatives quietly voted to defund IRS investigations of church political endorsements as part of a massive spending bill.
On the bottom of page 21 of the text of the 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, the drafters included the following language:
SEC. 116. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination that a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, or a convention or association of churches is not exempt from taxation for participating in, or intervening
in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office unless.
(1) the Commissioner of Internal Revenue consents to such determination;
(2) not later than 30 days after such determination, the Commissioner notifies the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Finance of the Senate of such determination; and
(3) such determination is effective with respect to the church, integrated auxiliary of a church, or convention or association of churches not earlier than 90 days after the date of the notification under paragraph (2).
In other words, if the IRS decides to withdraw tax-exempt status of churches (note that the language only mentions churches, not other houses of worship or other non-profit organizations) because the church was involved in campaigning for or against a political candidate, it will need to inform Congress of this action and give Congress a chance to respond.
The Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from engaging campaigning for or against individuals for public office, has been notoriously difficult to enforce and if this bill becomes law, it will essentially eliminate the Johnson Amendment as it applies to churches.
Political campaign donations are not tax-deductible, but donations to churches that engage in political campaigning will presumably be tax-deductible, or at least outside of the oversight of the IRS under this bill. Pastors would be able to use their pulpits to endorse “godly” candidates and the separation of church and state would be in jeopardy.
For more information on this topic, see Michael Peabody’s article, “Unleashing the Churches” in the July / August 2017 issue of Liberty magazine.