The Johnson Amendment was passed by Congress in 1954 as an amendment to section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. The Johnson Amendment states that entities who are exempt from federal income tax cannot:
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 public office.
The Johnson Amendment was added to the tax code as a result of the political machinations of Lyndon B. Johnson who was running for reelection to the United States Senate. One scholar who studied this extensively concluded that the Johnson Amendment "is not rooted in constitutional provisions for separation of church and state…. Johnson was not trying to address any constitutional issue related to separation of church and state; and he did not offer the amendment because of anything that churches had done." Click here to read a scholarly history of the Johnson Amendment.
Since its passage in 1954, the Johnson Amendment has been applied to prohibit what a pastor says from the pulpit concerning candidates who are running for elective office. This means that under current IRS regulations, a pastor cannot say anything from the pulpit that may constitute support for – or opposition to – a political candidate.
It has not always been this way. For almost the first 200 years of America's history, pastors frequently spoke out with great boldness about the great moral and social issues of the day and about the candidates running for office.
Yet today, the voice of the Church has been silenced by the Johnson Amendment – an unjust and unconstitutional law. If you are interested in participating in this year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday to help restore a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit, click here to sign up.
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Do you know someone who would want to learn more about his or her constitutionally protected rights as a pastor?