GOP lawmakers offer bill to repeal law restricting churches' political activity

GOP lawmakers offer bill to repeal law restricting churches' political activity
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Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate rolled out legislation this week to repeal the "Johnson Amendment" that prevents religious institutions from endorsing political candidates.

The legislation was introduced in the House by Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), and in the Senate by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). 

The legislation comes after President Trump vowed to repeal the Johnson Amendment during his presidential campaign and reiterated that pledge during the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday. 

"I am ... heartened that President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to repealing Johnson at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast and look forward to working with him to make repeal a reality," Hice said in a news release.

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The bill would allow churches and other nonprofits that have tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code to speak out about candidates as long as the political activity is made during the course of the organizations' regular activities and does not have a large cost.

"For too long, the IRS has used the Johnson Amendment to silence and threaten religious institutions and charitable entities," Hice said. "As a minister who has experienced intimidation from the IRS firsthand, I know just how important it is to ensure that our churches and nonprofit organizations are allowed the same fundamental rights as every citizen of this great Nation."

Meanwhile, the Secular Coalition for America on Thursday argued that the Johnson Amendment should stay in place.

"The repeal of the Johnson Amendment would unleash a new wave of dark money into the political system, effectively transforming houses of worship into the equivalent of religious Super PACS," said Larry T. Decker, the coalition's president.