Churches' Lobbying and Campaigning: A Proposed Statutory Safe Harbor for Internal Church Communications
40 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2017
Date Written: February 24, 2017
President Trump, reiterating the position he took during the presidential campaign, has recently reaffirmed his pledge to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment,” the provision of the Internal Revenue Code which prohibits tax-exempt institutions from participating in political campaigns. The Code also bars tax-exempt institutions, including churches, from substantial lobbying activities.
Rather than the blanket repeal of the Johnson Amendment proposed by President Trump, I argue for a statutory safe harbor for the internal communications of churches. This limited safe harbor would protect in-house church discussions from both Section 501(c)(3)’s ban on substantial lobbying and from that section’s prohibition on political campaigning. Under this proposed amendment to the Internal Revenue Code, churches, along with other religious and secular tax-exempt institutions, would otherwise remain subject to the Code’s bars on campaigning and lobbying. While entanglement considerations counsel greater protection than current law provides for speech within churches, these statutory bars properly deter the diversion of income tax-deductible resources to campaigning and lobbying. My more targeted reform of the Johnson Amendment addresses the legitimate concerns of churches about their First Amendment rights while preventing the tax-exempt sector from becoming a conduit for tax-deductible campaign contributions.
Keywords: Johnson Amendment, 501(c)(3), churches, political campaigning, issue advocacy, substantial lobbying, 501(h), Rev. Rul. 2007-41
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