Johnson Amendment Challenge

Latest National Threat to Non-Profit Nonpartisanship Defeated

Updated 3/22/2018

Thanks to the advocacy of the non-profit and larger communities, the latest federal omnibus spending bill does not include language to dismantle the Johnson Amendment, the 60+-year-old law that allows 501(c)(3) organizations to work in communities free from partisan pressures, divisions, and interference.

Thank you for your calls to representatives, tweets, signing the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship, and other advocacy efforts to prevent this change by those who seek to politicize 501(c)(3) organizations.

While this is a victorious outcome, there is no reason to believe this will be the last attempt to eliminate or alter the Johnson Amendment. As Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits states in a recent news release, in 2017 “prominent politicians and well-funded lobbyists tried to gut the Johnson Amendment through an executive order and five separate bills. Their zeal last year suggests they likely will continue their push to hijack charitable goodwill for their own political ambitions while rewarding their supporters with charitable tax deductions for partisan donations. If that comes to pass, charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations will once again rise in force to defend this vital, longstanding law.”

The Center will continue to keep you up to date on this and other advocacy issues. Make sure you are signed up for our email alerts and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay informed. If you have questions or need additional information, contact us at the Center.

Threats to the Johnson Amendment have been made on numerous occasions since late 2017. If you’re not sure why the Johnson Amendment matters, check out its history below.

Background about Non-Profit Nonpartisanship and The Johnson Amendment

Since 1954, tax law has contained a provision prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from directly or indirectly attempting to influence the election or defeat of any candidate for public office. This ban, also known as the Johnson Amendment for its sponsor, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, applies not only to churches but to all 501(c)(3) organizations including public charities and private foundations. President Trump has vowed repeatedly to do away with the Johnson Amendment, and signed an executive order in early 2017 designed to limit its enforcement against religious organizations.

Thanks to strong and persistent advocacy by non-profits, faith leaders and their champions, efforts to gut the Johnson amendment as part of the 2017 federal tax reform bill  failed in the U.S. Senate. But those who seek to do away with nonpartisan protections for non-profits have vowed to try again.

A hallmark of the charitable, religious and philanthropic communities is our ability to unify stakeholders and tackle important problems without regard to partisan labels. In fact, polls have consistently found that the vast majority of Americans and charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations firmly believe that 501(c)(3) organizations should stay away from raw partisan politics:

  • Nearly three out of four American voters (72 percent) want to keep current rules protecting 501(c)(3) organizations from partisan political activity, according to a poll conducted in March 2017.
  • 89 percent of evangelical pastors oppose the idea of clergy mixing partisan politics and religion by endorsing candidates from the pulpit, according to a survey conducted in February 2017 by the National Association of Evangelicals.
  • More than 4,000 religious leaders (so far) have signed a letter declaring they are “strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics,” in part because “issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact of congregational unity and civil discourse.”
  • More than 100 national and state religious and denominational organizations signed a letter to Congress stressing: “People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord.”
  • So far, more than 5,600 charitable, religious, and philanthropic organizations from all 50 states have signed the Community Letter in Support of Nonprofit Nonpartisanship, demonstrating strong opposition to proposals to politicize our community by repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment, in part because “nonpartisanship is a cornerstone principle that has strengthened the public’s trust” of the charitable community by screening out “doubts and suspicions regarding ulterior partisan motives … as undoubtedly would occur if even just a few charitable organizations engaged in partisan politics.”

Encouraging political speech by exempt organizations would divide organizations, make them vulnerable to a host of pressures from unscrupulous political operatives, and would exacerbate the influence of “dark money” in our electoral process. The resulting damage to the integrity of the entire charitable, religious and philanthropic community would be significant and long-lasting.  Protecting non-profit nonpartisanship is vital to our community fabric and to our democracy.


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If you have questions or need more information about this bill or non-profit advocacy and nonpartisanship generally, contact us at the Center.