What The Bill Does:

Section 116 of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill, which provides funding for the District of Columbia and various federal agencies, including the IRS, would make it incredibly difficult for the IRS to investigate churches that have violated the Johnson Amendment. It would require consent from the IRS Commissioner for each investigation, notification to two committees in Congress and a 90-day waiting period before such investigations could commence. These hurdles would slow down, if not entirely halt, any investigations and further politicize them. In addition, because this special treatment applies to houses of worship and not to secular organizations, the provision likely violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

the Status of the Bill:

On July 13, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee took up the bill. 108 national organizations signed onto a letter telling members of the committee to oppose the inclusion of this language in the appropriations bill. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and co-sponsor Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to strip the provision. Despite having bipartisan support, the measure failed with a vote of 24-28. The bill, including Section 116, was later approved by and passed the House. We now wait to see what the Senate will do. 


The Vote: 

Yes: Aguilar, Bishop, Cartwright, Clark, Cuellar, DeLauro, Dent, Kaptur, Kilmer, Lee, Lowey, McCollum, Meng, Pingree, Pocan, Price, Quigley, Royal-Allard, Ruppersbrger, Ryan, Serrano, Taylor, Viscolsky, Wasserman Schultz

No: Aderholt, Amodei, Calvert, Carter, Cole, Culberson, Diaz-Balart, Fleischmann, Fortenberry, Frelinghuysen, Granger, Graves, Harris, Herrara Beutler, Jenkins, Joyce, Moolenaar, Newhouse, Palazzo, Roby, Rogers, Rooney, Simpson, Stewart, Valadao, Womack, Yoder, Young


Watch the House Committee Debate:

What Members of the Committee said:

"Regardless of our political stripes and colors, no one wants our charities or houses of worship to be torn apart by partisan campaign politics." — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

"In order to protect the integrity and independence of churches and houses of worship and faith-based charities, we need to ensure that they do not endorse or oppose political candidates and become politicized."  Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

“The Johnson Amendment is common sense and to get rid of it now would have dire consequences for our democracy.” — Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)

“What we do not want though is to legitimate using religious institutions as simply a conduit for political contributions or for candidate or party-centered political advocacy. . . [We should] all consult our common sense and our common experience on this matter before we take the step to bring partisan, candidate-centered politics into our churches.” — Rep. David Price (D-NC)

"The Johnson Amendment does not prevent houses of worship from speaking out about any political or social issue that they are passionate about, that they hold dear. This should be clear to all of us from churches, synagogues, mosques in our district, that engage in social justice movements and voice their well regarded opinions to us regularly." Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)

"[The Johnson Amendment] has allowed charitable organizations to concentrate on their exempt purposes and not to be distracted or coopted by partisan campaigns. Without it, houses of worship would be exposed to political pressure to endorse candidates."  Rep. Mike Quigley  (D-IL)

S. 264 / H.R. 781

“The Free Speech Fairness Act”

In January 2017, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced this bill on the Senate side and Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jody Hice (R-GA) introduced it on the House side. These bills are identical to a bill introduced last Congress in conjunction with Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual event during which certain groups try to persuade religious leaders to break federal law and endorse candidates for public office.

The bill does not fully repeal current law, but significantly undermines it. It would allow tax-exempt organizations—both houses of worship and secular nonprofits—to make statements endorsing or opposing candidates for public office so long as those statements are made in the ordinary course of carrying out their tax-exempt purpose and don’t incur more than de minimis incremental expenses. Although this might sound like a narrow exemption to current law, it is quite broad.

Under this bill, an organization could endorse one or more candidates in all of its activities, correspondence, and other written material. For example, the president of a large university could endorse a candidate in its weekly alumni email. A pastor could include an endorsement of a candidate in his sermon every Sunday, in the lesson taught at each Bible study, and in every bulletin or newsletter his church issues. This would allow partisan campaign politics to pervade every aspect of the organization, fundamentally changing its purpose and character.  

Read AU's Congressional Testimony Opposing this Bill.

H.R. 172

This bill, introduced by Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) in January 2017, would completely repeal the law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates. Both religious and secular tax-exempt organizations could “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign” supporting or opposing a political candidate for public office. Jones has been introducing this bill for more than 15 years. In 2002, the House actually voted down this bill 178-239, with 46 Republicans voting against it. 

Read AU's Congressional Testimony Opposing this Bill.