Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are dead serious about restoring the right of religious leaders to express their political preferences without fearing the loss of their tax-exempt status.
That right has been denied to religious leaders since 1954, when the Johnson Amendment was passed, barring religious organizations from contributing to or endorsing political campaigns.
Abbott and Paxton wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, asserting:
Since the Johnson Amendment, however, churches have been kept on the sidelines of political debate. The Free Speech Fairness Act will ensure that churches may once again freely participate in government. Religious liberty is a cornerstone of our republic. From the birth of the nation until passage of the Johnson Amendment, churches and pastors played a vital role in bringing a faith perspective to the pressing political issues of the day.
The two men said Lyndon B. Johnson, who wrote the amendment, did so to protect his seat in the United States Senate.
Pastor Robert Jeffress has argued that the Johnson Amendment should be repealed because because liberals could use it to silence conservative pastors. He said, “I want to say this very clearly, I am for repealing the Johnson Amendment not because I want to go around endorsing political candidates, I have no interest in doing that from my church. The Johnson Amendment and the IRS code has been abused by liberals, used by liberals to intimidate pastors.”
Abbott and Paxton’s letter was sent one day after a group of 99 religious organizations sent a letter arguing the reverse, stating:
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. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans do not want houses of worship to issue political endorsements. Particularly in today’s political climate, such endorsements would be highly divisive and would have a detrimental impact on civil discourse.
In February, President Trump ripped the Johnson Amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast, saying he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”