Johnson Amendment Repeal Removed from Final GOP Tax Bill
December 15, 2017
Trump promise to let churches make political endorsements blocked by Senate rule.
President Donald Trump’s biggest religious freedom policy promise to evangelicals—repealing the Johnson Amendment—will no longer take place via Republican tax reform.
A Democratic senator announced Thursday night that the repeal included in the House version of the tax bill, which would allow churches and other nonprofits to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include a repeal.
According to Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, the Johnson Amendment repeal was blocked by the Senate parliamentarian. Because of a requirement called the Byrd Rule, reconciliation bills—which are passed through a simple Senate majority—cannot contain “extraneous” provisions that don’t primarily deal with fiscal policy, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Trump made political speech by churches a major part of his president platform, and since taking office has repeatedly brought up his pledge to “totally destroy” the 1954 tax code provision named for Lyndon B. Johnson. Trump saw the Johnson Amendment as a restriction on religious groups’ free speech rights, since it prevents any nonprofit from opposing or endorsing a political candidate—therefore keeping political contributions from becoming tax-deductible.
Democrats have opposed the measure, and Wyden said he was pleased they prevented the repeal and would “continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision.”
Republican Senator James Lankford, a Southern Baptist and religious liberty advocate, criticized the move to block the measure.