As Dr. Paul points out in his column this week, we have seen an increase in efforts to use government power to silence groups like Campaign for Liberty that organize opposition to big government.
This is not a new phenomenon, as the assaults on the First Amendment go back to the early days of the Republic and the Alien and Sedition Act.
A more recent example is the Johnson Amendment. Named after then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, this amendment prohibits any 501(C)(3) organization, such as a Church, from engaging in any activity that may directly or indirectly be interpreted as “participating in a campaign”. The ban includes handing out literature regarding a candidate’s positions.
Campaign for Liberty has joined an effort to overturn the Johnson Administration by supporting the the Free Speech Fairness Act of 2016 (H.R. 6195), legislation introduced by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Representative Jody Hice (GA-10), that overturns the Johnson amendment.
While Congress has adjourned for the year, hopefully the bill will be reintroduced and will pass in the next Congress.
Some will say that the solution is for charitable activities to refuse to accept tax-exempt status. The problem with that is that doing so means their donors cannot legally deduct their donations. This could place those groups at a “competitive disadvantage” with organizations that do operate as 501(C)(3)s.
In any case, all those who value freedom should agree that charitable and religious organizations shouldn’t be forced to choose between tax-exempt status and their First Amendment rights.
Here is the letter in support of the Free Speech Fairness Act:
October 24, 2016
The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House
H-232, The Capitol
Washington DC 20515
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
H-329, The Capitol
Washington DC 20515
Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy:
We, the undersigned, representing hundreds of thousands of Americans, want to thank you for your commitment to preserving the rights secured in the First Amendment of the Constitution, specifically the rights to freedom of religion and speech. Unfortunately, since its passage, the Johnson Amendment has effectively squelched both of those rights in the context of activities that could be construed by the IRS as on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office. That is why we support the Free Speech Fairness Act of 2016 (H.R. 6195, “Fairness Act”), introduced by Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Representative Jody Hice (R-Ga.) to protect the speech and religious freedom rights of 501(c)(3) organizations and their leaders. We encourage you to prioritize hearings and votes on this important bill.
Under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, tax exempt organizations, including churches, may not engage in any activity that might be interpreted as directly or indirectly participating in a campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office, including handing out literature. The Johnson amendment changed the tax code in 1954 without any debate, and is still restricting the free speech of churches, religious institutions, and other tax exempt organizations today.
Not only is it unconstitutional, but the Johnson Amendment has been inconsistently enforced by the IRS causing many non-profits confusion over how and when they may speak about political issues and candidates. In fact, on numerous occasions, the IRS has initiated investigations of tax exempt organizations without imposing penalties, or has imposed penalties only to later reimburse the fines. These inconsistencies have had the effect of significantly chilling the freedom to believe and speak that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
For the last decade, many churches have participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday and have spoken from the pulpit on political matters. They in turn have sent their sermons to the IRS to elicit a response and a court challenge of the Johnson Amendment. The IRS has not investigated these churches but its guidance has not changed and churches are left in limbo.
In addition, every year, organizations hostile to religious liberty threaten churches with letters promising to report them to the IRS, which has also contributed to the stifling of speech under the Johnson Amendment.
In order for the free speech rights of pastors and 501(c)(3) leaders to be restored, the Fairness Act provides for limited political activity that 1) is made in the ordinary course of the 501(c)(3) organization’s regular and customary activities, so long as those activities carry out the organization’s tax exempt purpose, and 2) does not incur more than de minimis incremental costs.
Thus, this legislation provides for speech without allowing tax exempt organizations to purchase political ads for or against a candidate for public office. Passage of the Fairness Act is necessary to restore the free speech and freedom of religion rights of America’s pastors and churches and to remove the role of the IRS in chilling free speech.
We urge you to support the Fairness Act.
Family Research Council
Gary L. Bauer
Alliance Defending Freedom
Mat Staver, Esq.
Founder and Chairman
Jonathan Alexandre, J.D.
Director of Public Policy
Liberty Counsel Action
President and Founder
The Association of Mature American Citizens
Michael J. Bowen
Coalition For a Strong America
Willes K. Lee
National Federation of Republican Assemblies
Founder & Principal Able Americans
Lisa B. Nelson
American Legislative Exchange Council
Jerry A. Johnson, Ph.D. President and CEO National Religious Broadcasters
March for Life Action
Penny Young Nance
CEO and President
Concerned Women for America
American Association of Christian Schools
American Civil Rights Union
Center for National Policy Action, Inc.
Campaign for Liberty
CapStand Council for Policy & Ethics
Lewis K. Uhler
National Tax Limitation Committee
William J. Murray
Religious Freedom Coalition
Maryland Taxpayers Association
Ronald D. Rotunda The Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence Chapman University
C. Preston Noell III
Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.
Attorney David Gibbs, III
National Center for Life and Liberty
Sir Knight Alex-St. James
BEST Trust Fund, a One Day in America project.
David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)
Christian Medical Association
J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Home School Legal Defense Association
Missouri Family Policy Council
The Family Foundation (KY)
Julaine K. Appling
Wisconsin Family Action
Nebraska Family Alliance
Citizens for Community Values
Indiana Family Institute
Founder & President
New Jersey Family Policy Council
Alaska Family Action
Rev. Jason J. McGuire
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms